was the main reason encumbents lost,
but not the only one
by Paul Chevalier
Editor’s Note: Chevalier is
the Chairman of Sedona’s Art and Culture Commission. He is
a retired Senior Executive of a major retailer where he was
responsible for law and personnel. He holds a Degree in Government
from Columbia College, a Law Degree from Columbia Law School
and Business Degrees from both Columbia and Harvard Business
do the Sedona election results mean?
Once every two years, the
citizens of Sedona have the opportunity to vote for new City
Council members. In the March 2002 election a number of surprising
First of all, Sedona had a
record number of votes cast. In total, 69 percent of registered
voters cast votes. This was a huge increase over the prior
election. What happened?
One obvious reason for the
increase in number of votes cast was the switch to a mail
ballot system. This made it more convenient for people to
vote. It was an important reason for the increase in voting.
But it wasn’t the only reason for the significantly stronger
The Highway 179 controversy
played an important role in this election. The winning candidates
for the council seats all vigorously opposed ADOT’s 4/5 expansion
plan for Highway 179. And each of the winners had significant
support from a broad cross section of the community. Citizens
made phone calls, sent letters and postcards, gave financial
aid, and volunteered significant amounts of their personal
time to help get the winners elected.
Each of the winning candidates
spent time reaching out to residents who often do not vote
and the winners listened to residents’ concerns. The winning
candidates took clear positions on the major issues concerning
the citizens of Sedona. They promised the citizens that they
would take action to address many issues if elected, including
protecting the quality of our environment, preserving open
space and the overall “look” of Sedona, and supporting greater
financial aid to community-based organizations such as the
library and the humane society. They also promised to only
take actions that are consistent with our community plan,
to support the growth and development of arts and culture
in our city, and to establish true dialogue between the City
Council and the citizens of Sedona.
They gave us hope. Never had
we been promised so much. And so the vast majority of us checked
off their names on our ballots and we mailed them in.
We waited for the election
results and we got them. The three-winning candidates, who
all supported a two-lane expansion and opposed a 4/5 lane
expansion of Highway 179, won by an almost 2-to-1 margin over
the fourth place finisher. Clearly Highway 179 was the major
It was not the only issue.
The results of this election showed that the voters were dissatisfied
with the City Council incumbents, who were running for reelection,
for reasons that go beyond their support of a 4/5 lane Highway
179 expansion. Here is how I arrived at this conclusion.
The two incumbents who ran
for reelection finished fifth and sixth in a seven-person
race. Sharon Nagy, like the two incumbents running for reelection,
supported a 4/5 lane expansion for Highway 179.
Yet, candidate Nagy finished fourth, beating both the
incumbents by 119 and 198 votes, respectively. If Highway
179 was the only important issue, then Nagy should have finished
behind the incumbents. After all, both of the incumbents had
greater name recognition then any of the other candidates,
including candidate Nagy. The incumbents’ names and faces
were in the news in the past four years much more than any
of the other candidates. That should have given the incumbents
Nevertheless, candidate Nagy
beat both incumbents. This would not have happened if the
Highway 179 expansion issue was the only important reason
that citizens voted the way they did, since Nagy and the incumbents
all supported the 4/5 lane expansion.
So for which reasons did our
neighbors make their choices?
I was curious and after the election I talked with
dozens of citizens and asked them to tell me, without revealing
what candidates they voted for, what issues influenced them
to vote the way they did.
The most frequently mentioned
issues included Highway 179 (no surprise here), protecting
our environment, establishing a true dialogue between citizens
and the Council, following the Community Plan, and increased
city financial aid for community organizations such as the
often-mentioned Library and Humane Society.
Important as the Highway 179
expansion issue was, other issues also influenced voters in
Electing city Council members
was not the only subject that we voted on in March. This year,
the registered voters of Sedona were asked to approve a proposal to borrow $4.9 million to pay part of the cost of building
an indoor recreation center. Seventy-five percent of voters
rejected this proposal. That is a huge percentage to oppose
a ballot measure supported by a city council.
I wanted to know what caused
so many people to oppose this measure. I asked some of the
same citizens that I had talked with about the City Council
election some questions concerning the Sedona indoor recreation
center vote - such as what influenced their vote on the proposed
Sedona indoor recreation center? How did they feel about the
city spending money in the near future on a less expensive,
scaled down indoor recreation center in Sedona? If Sedona
builds a smaller indoor recreation
center in the near future what should be the number
one activity in it?
I didn’t ask how people voted
on the indoor recreation center proposal, but almost everyone
I discussed the balloting
with told me that they voted against it. When I asked them
why, most people told me that they voted against the recreation
center proposal because it would cost much more to operate
then the city claimed it would. Many citizens also told me
that they were upset that the City Council put the issue on
the ballot without investigating the costs of building the
The people who told me that
they voted for the recreation center stated that the city
needs a place for children’s indoor physical activities. One
said he believed we should have a place for adults to play
When I asked my second question,
people were pretty cautious. About half of the citizens I
talked with thought it might be all right for the city to
build a smaller recreation center in the near future provided
that it be either financially self-supporting or supported
with private donations (no city money), and that the city
not borrow any or very much money to build it.
With regard to the third question,
almost everyone I talked with said that if Sedona builds an
indoor recreation center, as its first priority should be
a community pool.
My conclusion from these conversations
is that the citizens of Sedona might support a scaled down
version of the defeated recreation center, but do not want
the city to borrow much money to build it or spend city money
to maintain it.
So what should be learned
from this vote? There are three simple and obvious lessons:
voting by mail does improve the percentage of votes that are
cast; the City Council should never put a proposal on the
ballot before it has been exhaustively studied; and the vast
majority of voters in Sedona support a two-lane Highway 179
No longer can anyone make
a credible sounding argument that the city is split evenly
on whether or not Highway 179 should be expanded to 4/5 lanes.
No longer can anyone on the City Council, who seeks to represent
the will of the majority of the community (which is what a
council member is supposed to do) have any justification,
as a council member, for supporting a 4/5 lane expansion for
The voters have plainly spoken
and every member of the City Council has a responsibility
to support the will of the people they were elected to represent.
The lesson to be learned by those members of the City Council
who have supported the 4/5-lane expansion is that they were
out of step with the majority of the voters of Sedona. It
is time for them to put aside their personal opinions on how
Highway 179 should be expanded, to acknowledge the will of
the majority of the citizens of Sedona on this issue, and
get in step with it. Council members were elected to represent
the majority opinion of the citizens of Sedona.
Democracy is ridiculed when
elected officials refuse to support the will of the people
they are supposed to represent.
I believe the entire current
City Council should, with one voice, now tell ADOT that it
accepts the will of the people of Sedona and it will only
support a two-lane expansion of Highway 179 with improvements.
Council, speak up now and show the people of Sedona that you
understand they are your boss.
There is another important
lesson to be learned from this election. Promises must be
kept. Here I am speaking to the winners. The people who voted
for you have great expectations. Many of the people I have
talked with believe that you have promised a lot. We gave
you our support. We do not want to be disappointed. In June,
with like-minded support from two other seated council members,
you will form the majority of the council.
We are expecting the new council
to hit the ground running and focus on the most important