Milhaven, Smith still lead, 3rd seat tight in Scottsdale council election
Beth Duckett, The Republic | azcentral.com 12:31 p.m. MST November 5, 2014
A sitting council member and a newcomer were holding leads for two Scottsdale City Council seats early Wednesday, while the battle for a third and final seat was extremely tight between two other candidates, according to early election returns.
Incumbent Councilwoman Linda Milhaven led in early, unofficial results, followed by newcomer David Smith. Kathy Littlefield held a slim lead Wednesday morning over incumbent Dennis Robbins for the third seat, followed by challengers Jennifer Petersen and Cindy Hill.
With 53 out of 53 precincts reported, Littlefield was 25 votes ahead of Robbins, according to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, which oversees county elections.
Votes still were being counted Wednesday, and results were not official yet. The results did not include provisional ballots, which require additional verification, and unverified early ballots.
Scottsdale City Clerk Carolyn Jagger expected an estimate of the outstanding ballots from Maricopa County on Wednesday or Thursday.
Jagger said by e-mail she suspected there were thousands of Scottsdale ballots left to be counted. In the August primary, for example, the county counted 34,333 Scottsdale ballots on Election Night, but the final Scottsdale ballot total was 37,681 — a difference of 3,348 ballots, or potentially 10,044 votes, she said.
Countywide, it’s not unusual to have 100,000 early ballots turned in at the polls and 10,000 to 20,000 provisional ballots still to be processed after Election Day, Jagger said.
“I anticipate the counting will continue throughout this week and next,” she said.
Under state law, an automatic recount is done if there are 10 votes or fewer separating candidates who received the greatest number of votes for an office, in this case, one of three council seats, Jagger said.
The law applies to a city, town or a county or subdivision of a city, town or county.
Scottsdale’s City Charter says the candidate who receives the highest number of votes in a general election is elected. In the case of a tie, the decision is determined “by lot,” it says.
Milhaven and Robbins are incumbents who are seeking to retain their seats. The third seat that is opening currently is held by Councilman Bob Littlefield, who has reached term limits and will be stepping down. He is Kathy Littlefield’s husband.
Final election results were expected out later this week or next.
Littlefield said she believes voters sent a message that they don’t like what’s happening in Scottsdale. “They don’t like the building going on and the destruction of neighborhoods,” she said.
When asked about the differences between her and Robbins, Littlefield said, “I think Dennis is the one who has voted pretty consistently with the people who want the high-rise apartments and high density and voting to change the General Plan,” she said. “He has voted for the bars, for the apartments – all these things in this election the citizens are saying they don’t want.”
Robbins said by phone that the message voters sent was mixed. With Milhaven as the top vote-getter, it was clear many voters supported the status quo and the direction the city is headed, yet with Smith and Littlefield in the mix, “it says different things about different constituents,” he said.
When asked if the results show a divided community, Robbins said, “I think so,” adding that “people have different priorities because we are such a diverse community.”
“We are certainly not homogeneous as far as the future of Scottsdale,” he said. “I think the election does say we have residents who want different (things).”
Milhaven and Robbins have aligned on many issues. Robbins said voters supported how they “marshaled the budget through a really difficult economy, and we are improving our tourism assets, and also that employment in general is improving and the economic outlook for Scottsdale for businesses was better than we were four years ago.”
If early results hold, Milhaven and Smith would take office in early January. Milhaven and Smith often have clashed in their views for Scottsdale, with Milhaven touting the city’s growth and progress downtown and Smith saying the current vision of downtown conflicts with what residents really want, which does not include sky-rise buildings. They also differed in their priorities for 2015, with Milhaven pushing for transportation improvements and Smith supporting a path to financial stability.
Milhaven, who celebrated at an election party Tuesday night, said she already has a top priority for the new year: transportation.
She said the city is working on a transportation master plan, which will study and lay out options to enhance ways to move around in the city.
That includes making sure the city has better transportation connections, Milhaven said.
“In the long term, folks talk about how do we connect to the regional system, what would that look like,” she said. “That could be anything. Technology is changing all the time.”
Smith said his most important issue for the city is to return to a path of fiscal sustainability.
“It’s not something I can immediately do on day one, but it’s certainly something I can make a primary focus,” he said on Wednesday.
Scottsdale needs to reinvest in its infrastructure, which is wearing out and needs to be replaced and restored, he said.
“I’ve talked about how we’re letting the condition of our streets become less,” he said. “They’re not kept up to the standards of what we have done historically.”
Keeping the city attractive also draws in tourists, he said.
In 2013, city voters rejected four bond questions that would have raised taxes to reinvest in some infrastructure.
Smith said the city will need to have a bond election again to raise money to reinvest in infrastructure.
“When that occurs, I don’t know,” he said. “How much it will be, I don’t know.”
Milhaven said her solid lead in early results showed voters thought she did a good job in her current term, and consider her a thoughtful council member. She began her first term on the council in 2011.
“Although we’ll never agree on everything, I’ll always explain why I took a position and that I listen to their points of view,” Milhaven said.
She said negative campaign signs that targeted her in the election may have been a help rather than a hindrance. The yellow-and-black signs, paid for by the True Voices of Scottsdale committee, had statements such as “Want more bars and drunks? Vote for Milhaven.”
“Folks come to Scottsdale to go to dinner and have a nice evening,” Milhaven said. “I think the signs helped in that regard.”
Kathy Littlefield, part owner and treasurer of a small Scottsdale business, said her first issue is putting a transportation plan in place that helps residents move around more easily.
“Many residents who live in retirement homes and who no longer drive have spoken to me about the difficulty they have with getting to doctors, drug stores, and other businesses here in Scottsdale,” Littlefield said in the azcentral.com voters’ guide.
In the azcentral.com voter’s guide, Robbins said Scottsdale needs to finalize an economic development strategic plan, which could further the city’s economic success and sustainability.
“We have not given economic development the attention that it deserves,” Robbins said.