By Michael Wright
Sedona AZ — I am rather recent arrival in Sedona so Home Rule is new to me. In deciding how to vote a number of comments on Next Door (pro and con) have been very helpful. I appreciate the passionate, and mostly civil, commentary. There is no reason anyone else should care how I reached my decision but I share it in the spirit of “for what it’s worth.”
While small, Sedona is a complicated place with a slowly diminishing resident population and out-of-control tourism (which seems to be the one universal point of agreement). On arrival I was surprised how little control either the residents or the city government has over the forces impacting us. The State, the Forest Service, corporate prompters of destructive “adventure” tourism and of course the overall state of the economy all have the ability to frustrate many of our preferred options. I considered my Home Rule vote in light of the reality that we are 9,000+ souls in a life boat in a sea of 3- 5 million tourists.
This reality requires an otherwise “small town” to make complex decisions with huge short and long term impacts on us and the environment in which we live. In developing a budget, civic leaders have to weigh emergency actions vs long term investments. They need to predict the future as best they can while retaining the capacity to react to the unexpected (covid? STR?). They need to commission studies and compare options which requires an ongoing engagement between Council and city staff and the community. It requires reading vast number of studies and budgets and continual dialogue between city staff and the Mayor and Council. Most important to my thinking is this is not a once every year or every two year process…it is a constant ebb and flow, change and adjustment.
Those urging a No vote apparently feel our elected leaders have seriously fallen down on civic engagement, are not listening to “the community” or have been captured by corporate interests. These concerns appear to be a major driver of the desire to constrain the flexibility of the Mayor and Council and to shrink the city budget and staff. The No proponents state that with Home Rule, once elected, the Mayor and Council escape further accountability.
The proponents of a No vote also believe the Mayor and Council are spending lavishly or for projects with which these voters disagree. They argue that eliminating Home Rule will require that the Mayor and Council adhere to a more modest 1988-based budget and return to the voters if they want to exceed those constraints. They state that spending above those constraints can be addressed by future votes through a Permanent Base Adjustment (PBA) or one-time override (a “voter referendum”) which will create greater Council accountability. I believe, but am not sure, that a supplemental budget vote can only happen once every two years. It is unclear to me whether voters will have to vote all or nothing or could vote a la carte: project-by-project.
Given this reality there are two primary concerns that I weigh in making my decision on Home Rule: practicality and accountability.
Practicality: Beyond a certain size you can not run any complex enterprise, be it a business, an organization or a government, without extensive planning and understanding how the pieces of a puzzle of running a city fit together. Major infrastructure projects take multiple years to plan, budget, fund, etc. At what stage in project development would the supplement budget vote take place—too soon and you may not know enough, too late and much costs might be incurred before rejection. My biggest concern is the simple impracticality of voters seeking to micromanage a complex multimillion dollar enterprise through a process which is, sadly, more appropriate in a small New England village or Sedona in the past.
Accountability: The Council and Mayor are elected by the voters and thereafter all their votes are public—they are and remain accountable to us, the voters. If they ignore the concerns of a majority of the citizens, that appears in the public record and any one of them can be defeated at the next election. Anyone one of them can be queried about why and investigated on what might have unduly influenced their votes. I will undoubtedly disagree with some things that any one Council member supports—-if it is a major disagreement or happens too often they will lose my vote when they stand for reelection. The public nature of the votes and the ballot is the time-honored mechanism for accountability. To assert that we have no voice under Home Rule simple ignores the multiple on-going ways voters can access the Council and Mayor.
I also fail to see how elimination of Home Rule and creation of “supplemental referendum process” provides greater accountability. My understanding is that only about a third of Sedona’s eligible voters do so. The ballot is secret, as it should be, so we don’t know who voted and for what. We don’t know who might have influenced them or how much the voters actually investigated some or all of the proposed budget items. I simply don’t understand how No proponents trust their fellow voters to make complex long-term budget and financial choices but do not trust them to select and delegate to Mayor and Council overseeing the day-to-day management of the city and it’s budget.
There are some projects and priorities of the Mayor, the Council and city staff which I might like to weed out of the budget. Others certainly have their own list of weeds. However, voting No on Home Rule is akin to weeding the garden with a bulldozer.
I am voting YES on Home Rule.