Cave Creek election stirring up dust clouds

Arizona Republic Editorial Staff
The Republic |

It was apparent, not 10 min­utes into Wednesday night’s Cave Creek Town Council candidate forum, that the strat­egies at hand represented a significant departure from those utilized in the weeks leading up to November’s run­off election in Scottsdale.

There was no pandering to secure votes from a dogmatic bloc of the electorate, and there was certainly no mention of light rail.

What the audience saw, however, was a veritable chorus line of casually dressed townsfolk in various stages of their political careers — a neck-swiveling 12 in total, six of whom were incumbents — each auditioning for one of six open spots on the council. Rather than gushing like pub­lic- relations executives about what they cherished most about their town, these candi­dates sounded more like sur­geons, issuing matter-of-fact diagnoses of Cave Creek’s troubles followed by their proposed plans for operation.

The non-incumbents spent much of the evening fighting allegations that they were running as a slate, instead maintaining that the current leaders have been engaged in a blatant power-and-money grab beginning with a costly pur­chase of a local water company in 2007. Incumbents and May­or Vincent Francia — running for his eighth consecutive term — lashed out at the newcomers in response, emphasizing their relative inexperience in muni­cipal government and painting their critiques as brazen and unfounded.

Saddled with more than $60 million in debt, Cave Creek is in a precarious position as it tries to retain its rural identity in the face of resurgent devel­opment to the south of town. Residents — who stretched, if not shattered, the Town Hall’s official 177-person capacity in a refreshing display of civic engagement Wednesday night — have historically been vehe­mently against raising proper­ty- tax rates to offset a relative lack of commercially zoned space.

They’re proud their town isn’t some homogenous assort­ment of strip malls — the only chain business along the main road in town is an old Dairy Queen that was grandfathered in to current town ordinance, as any of them would gladly tell you — and more fearful than ever that high-density development is about to blow in like a monsoon storm, wash­ing away Cave Creek’s charac­ter in the process.

This is the knife’s edge along which these dozen candi­dates must walk between now and the March 12 election, in what’s becoming a quietly fascinating referendum on political transparency and fiscal accountability in one of the Valley’s last vestiges of authentic Western life.

If Wednesday night was any indication — long-simmering tempers flared in the final minutes of the 2 1 ⁄ 2-hour-long forum — the cowboy town appears to be stampeding to­ward one of its most fragment­ing and significant decisions yet.

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