PHOENIX — The city's urban renewal board will not be joined by the entirety of the City Council, after all.
After a series of heated meetings that yielded two resignations, harsh words and a divided council vote — which Mayor Jeff Bellah broke to decide that the council would join forces with urban renewal for a larger board — city officials decided to take a few steps back.
City Manager Steve Dahl now says the two entities will remain separate, but a councilor will be added to the board and one citizen position will be eliminated. In addition, steps to improve communication will be taken.
Council members have exchanged heated words in recent weeks, with councilors Karen Jones and Terry Helfrich saying urban renewal members felt the council was trying to micromanage the agency.
Dahl said better communication with urban renewal officials and a more balanced ratio of council members and citizens seemed a reasonable compromise.
"With those types of assurances in place, the council decided to add another councilor to the urban renewal board and see how it works out for a little while. That seems to make everyone happy — and if not happy then placated," Dahl said.
"We hope this will alleviate some of the political burden of combining meetings. I think it would have been very difficult for the council to add another meeting to their schedule," he added.
The urban renewal board currently has seven members — five citizen positions and two councilors. Dahl said the reconfigured agency will consist of three council positions and four citizens. Councilor Chris Luz was appointed as the new member.
Luz said he looks forward to participating with the urban renewal board.
"I'm just looking forward to assisting urban renewal to do what's best for the city of Phoenix, and I think it will help that we've changed the composition of the board," Luz said.
Luz said he wants to see progress on needed improvements, especially a plan for a market square near the city center. Land for the proposal is already owned by the city.
"Helping the city of Phoenix with the market square is one of the top priorities, along with establishing a community center and eliminating the blight from downtown," he said.
"The goal, five years from now, is for people to drive into town and say, 'Wow, Phoenix has really changed. I'd like to live here and own a business here now.' We've just all got to work together to make it happen on behalf of the citizens of Phoenix. We've all got to be on the same wavelength."
Urban renewal board member Chris Henry, who resigned in protest of the decision to combine the two groups, said Saturday he would retract his resignation and remain involved in urban renewal as long as the two groups remain separate.
"I am very delighted at the decision they made as far as not doing the full merge of the two entities. I think the whole thing will work out fine, and I think this was an eye-opener for not only the council but the citizens. ... We have a ton more to tackle, but there is some super positive stuff coming in front of us," Henry said.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.