PHOENIX — The Phoenix City Council is one step closer to joining the Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency board despite intense opposition, months of heated discussion and two PURA resignations last week.
After more than three hours of often hostile debate, council members Thursday directed city staff to prepare an ordinance that would expand the urban renewal board to include the seven council members.
Mayor Jeff Bellah said his preference was a drafted compromise that would keep the two entities separate while improving communication, rotating two council members onto the PURA board and receiving monthly reports from PURA Executive Director Marla Cates.
But when the council deadlocked in a 3-3 vote on whether to add the council to the PURA board, Bellah sided with supporters Chris Luz and Stan and Carolyn Bartell, breaking the tie. Councilors Terry Helfrich, Karen Jones and Bruce Sophie opposed combining the groups.
Bellah said he felt the drafted compromise would take away "some of that overhang of fear that it seemed like many of the (PURA) board members felt was going to be there from council being on the board."
Helfrich faulted Bellah for PURA's fear of being joined by what had become "a bad council," and cited the recent resignations of two longtime PURA board members, Chris Henry and Ron Ridgeway.
"Just with your demeanor and everything you did, two board members already walked out. There's their resignations," Helfrich said.
"You're toxic. You just ... how can you beat up citizens that are volunteers?" Helfrich asked Bellah.
Jones agreed with Helfrich that adding the council to the PURA board would "smother them."
Bellah ordered council members to stop insulting one another and said he worried they were unable to "talk civil to one another" and "stay on subject."
"Oh you're the one to say," Jones said. "Yeah, you be sure to lead the civil conversation, Jeff. You're very good at that. You only hear the citizens when they have your viewpoint."
Luz said he favored the combined board to ensure the council would stay abreast of important projects but worried about current hostilities on the council.
Bellah said he and Luz had attended meetings "to learn" but Jones said urban renewal volunteers felt the pair were "hovering."
"I don't feel that I hover. I go there to learn," argued Luz. "If we weren't all butting heads, I think combining boards would be amenable."
At one point during the meeting, Bellah ordered City Manager Steve Dahl to escort an audience member outside for making comments.
Helfrich told the council that trust amid council members was at an all-time low and that the council would see additional resignations from PURA. Helfrich worried that "a very well run" urban renewal agency would be "tainted" by the council's micromanaging.
Husband-wife team Carolyn and Stan Bartell were largely quiet during the meeting, while council President Sophie warned that anger would worsen the situation.
"Right now, I see a lot of emotions and a lot of anger and, when you're angry, you can't make good decisions," said Sophie, who encouraged keeping assigned liaisons, Helfrich and Jones, in place if the combined model were chosen.
Bellah reiterated on Friday that his preference was for the compromise option and to keep the entities separate. Bellah said he broke the tie because the combined option was "an actual decision" versus continuing with a non-decision.
Henry said his resignation had everything to do with comments by Bellah, who likened Henry's resignation to "a child stomping his feet, grabbing his marbles and going home."
"During our joint meeting with the council, I got to see exactly how this council operates. I was insulted by the mayor as were most of the (urban renewal board) based on some of his comments that he made," Henry said.
"That's how these guys operate and I do not have to expend my energy to continue with this process. The nastiness and bickering going on is the most insane thing I've ever seen, and I cannot work under those circumstances. It's going to be a train wreck."
The council will review the proposed ordinance at an April meeting. If approved, a second reading would take place two weeks later.
The ordinance would go into effect 30 days later.
In other news, city officials will hold a town hall meeting to discuss the newly implemented Senate Bill 3460, which allows licensing of medical marijuana facilities. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March, 20, at the Phoenix High School Rose Street theater, 745 N. Rose St., Phoenix.
Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.