Amid a city-wide conversation over the recusal rate among city commissioners, five residents are vying for the spot held by Scottsdale Planning Commission Vice Chair Prescott Smith – who has the highest number of recusals on the panel.
The city council received 15 applications for the seat and nominated five to officially be considered, including Smith. It will decide the matter Dec. 4.
Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp nominated Smith, whose first term ended Nov. 28.
Others include A.J. Germek, nominated by Solange Whitehead; Joseph Cusak, nominated by Vice Mayor Kathy Littlefield; William Scarbrough, nominated by Guy Phillips; and Dana Close, nominated by Virginia Korte.
Council is considering limits on how often commissioners and city board members can recuse themselves for conflict of interest.
The rules brought before the council on July 2 would have removed commissioners if they had a 25 percent annual recusal rate, based on total meetings. However, Milhaven contended the 25 percent recusal threshold should be based on total number of items considered, not meetings.
“I think itreally misrepresents the impact of a recusal because one meeting may have ten items and another meeting may have two items,” Milhaven said. “To say, a recusal for a single item on a single day has the same impact, I think it is distorting the impact of the recusal.”
Milhaven suggested staff rewrite the rule to allow removal of a board or commission member if they recused themselves from 25 percent of total items discussed during a rolling six-month period.
The new rules were again scheduled to go before the council on Sept. 17, but were again delayed at the request of city staff.
The Progress analyzed all regular Planning Commission meetings in 2019 and compiled the recusal rates for all members on action items affecting specific projects or zoning changes in the city.
The Progress did not count action items, such as approving the Planning Commission’s calendar, which does not affect projects or the city’s zoning ordinance.
According to this analysis, Smith’s 12 recusals through Nov. 20 were more than any other planning commissioner.
The only two other commissioners with recusals during 2019 were Ali Fakih with six and Larry Kush with eight.
Under the original proposed rules presented to council in July – which based recusal rate on total meetings during a six month period – Smith could have been removed from office.
Between May and the commission’s Nov. 13 meeting, the Planning Commission held 11 regular meetings and Smith recused himself from one or more action items at 5 of those 11 meetings.
That equates to a recusal rate of 45 percent, well above the 25 percent threshold considered by council.
However, under the wording proposed by Milhaven, which would calculate the rate based on total items considered, Smith’s recusal rate would fall below the threshold for removal.
Smith recused himself from five of 56 action items considered by the Commission in the six months between May and November, which equates to a recusal rate of 9 percent.
Smith was absent at two meetings this year that likely would have resulted in additional recusals, including the Museum Square vote on Sept. 11 and the Gentry on the Green vote on Oct. 23. His consulting firm, Technical Solutions, was involved in both projects.
Fakih, who was also absent during the Museum Square meeting, also worked on the Museum Square project as a civil engineer with his firm Sustainability Engineering Group.