SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Mayor W.J. “Jim” Lane has a long-standing history in Scottsdale. For over four decades, he has called “The West’s Most Western Town” home, raising three children with his wife, Joanne, and working and participating in the community.
After obtaining a Bachelors of Science degree from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in the 1973, Lane says he made an active effort to gravitate west. “I ended up interviewing with some CPA firms at the time,” he says. “I specifically indicated I wanted to entertain offers from different areas, mostly in the west.” He states that of the offers he received, “the Phoenix-Scottsdale area really struck me at the time.”
Before long, Lane took a position Peat Marwick, which is now known as KPMG, one of the Big Four auditors. After working in that capacity for about half a decade, Mayor Lane moved on to work in financial executive positions, serving as CFO for publicly-traded and private companies. Eventually, he started his own company, a construction business, before delving into aviation, where he became part owner and CEO/President of a regional airline.
Later, Lane opened up shop in the tech world, with his more recent business endeavors consisting of an Internet Service Provider and a Network Integration company. According to the mayor, it was during the transition from the latter that he first became involved in local politics.
“In the process of selling that to a Canadian outfit,” he says, “I actually got involved with a task force for the former mayor … for Fire and EMS.”
The task force to which Lane refers was the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Advisory Committee, which was assembled to weigh the options between privatized and municipal public safety services. In addition to the advisory committee, Lane co-chaired the Know Enough to Vote No committee, on which he served as a proponent of retaining the private Rural/Metro Fire and EMS contract.
Essentially, as Lane explains it, “The unions got behind an issue to move Rural/Metro out and to municipalize [services].” In 2003, Propositions 200 and 201 were put on the ballot and the initiative was put to voters to decide. In the end, Lane says, “we were successful; against all odds, in a very real sense.”
Although Rural/Metro would later leave Scottsdale at the end of their contract in 2005, the political momentum gained by Lane’s efforts and the subsequent victory in 2003 was enough to launch what would ultimately be a successful bid on a seat on the Scottsdale City Council in 2004.
In 2008, at the end of his first term on the council, Jim Lane decided to run for mayor as what he refers to as “a little bit of a long-shot.”
“One thing led to another and I decided— on a reform movement, really— to challenge the situation with then-Mayor Manross,” he states. His opponent, former Mayor Mary Manross, was moderately established, politically speaking; she had served on the City Council since 1992, and was running for what would have been her third, and, according to the bylaws of the City Charter, final term as mayor.
In what ended up being a contentious and hard-fought race, Lane beat Manross— first in a primary by a margin of 365 votes, then in a subsequent runoff election by a margin of 590 votes. His victory marked the first time in Scottsdale’s history that an incumbent mayor was defeated by a challenger.
Once elected to his first term as mayor, Lane, who had run on a platform that included fiscal responsibility and a desire to move the city forward on a scope larger than that of his predecessor, quickly got to work to implement his vision for the city. However, upon assuming the new role, Lane encountered something neither he nor anyone else could have possibly anticipated; a severe downturn in the economy in the form of the Great Recession.
“What I didn’t anticipate, when I was running in 2008,” he recalls, “was that I’d be coming in at the greatest crisis time this city has ever experienced— we were off 35 percent or so of our tax revenues.”
The mayor continues, “We were suffering. We had to get more efficient in how we ended up contracting our workforce by about 10 or 15 percent— we did a lot of it through attrition— but we didn’t suffer our services, we didn’t raise taxes,” something Lane says would have constituted “kicking our economy while it’s on the ground already.” In short, he perceived raising tax rates as damaging to the recovery.
Instead of raising rates, out of a desire to increase taxable activity and generate revenue, the city government opted to re-allocate bed tax revenue to reinvest in Scottsdale’s physical assets— a strategy that was presented to voters and was widely supported.
As a result, expansions and improvements in the infrastructure of tourist-friendly facilities like the TPC Scottsdale and WestWorld, as well as the construction of Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, have effectively increased the scale on which the city accommodates tourists, subsequently increasing revenue. “All these things lend themselves to a huge asset, either in additional time in stay for our tourists, or bringing people here for the event,” Lane says.
Another way Mayor Lane says the economy has improved has been through the tech boom the downtown area has experienced in recent years. “Old Town was sort of diminished somewhat,” he says. “We now have an attraction with some of [the] amenities that were really meant to help bolster up an environment for the technology companies.”
“It’s one of the most activated areas in town anymore, he says, noting, “It’s become a technology hub for us.”
With the steady migration of tech companies like ZocDoc, Weebly, and Yodle, there appears to be some credence to the perception of Scottsdale as the “Silicon Desert.” Last year, DataFox listed the city among the 10 best cities to found a startup outside of New York or Silicon Valley.
In addition to the shot in the arm the downtown area has received, Mayor Lane points to another area where economic recovery is evident: Scottsdale Airpark. “We have actually been able to bring down the vacancy rates— they were peaked out at the height of the recession.”
As a member of the Flinn Foundation Arizona Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee, Lane is perhaps as satisfied with the decreasing vacancy as he is with the progress that has led to the filling of that vacancy with the Cure Corridor, which, he explains, is “a bioscience, biotechnical, and health sciences environment” that is “is really a concept more than a real estate deal.”
While that may be so, there is something to be said about the real estate aspect as well. Since 2011, the per-square-foot price of office space have nearly tripled, indicating a significant increase in the desirability of the area.
The rebirth of the Airpark has also presented a new trend when it comes to the city’s workforce. According to Lane, the Cure Corridor “has grown in reputation and influence so that now 20 percent of the people employed in the City of Scottsdale are in that industry.”
Having successfully gained re-election after defeating two challengers in a 2012 primary, the mayor is now nearing the end of his second term. As previously stated, the City Charter limits a mayor or council member to no more than three consecutive terms, meaning Lane’s recently-announced bid for another term will be his last.
His experience as a CPA and financial executive appears to have served him well as mayor— especially for someone who took office during a time of local and national economic woe. To that end, he says, “The financial background has always been important for me … It’s a little bit of that discipline of mind, but it’s a little bit of just being able to interpret and evaluate numbers and what they’re really telling you about how you’re doing.”
Ever the fiscal conservative, Lane summarizes his outlook on moving the city forward: “If we decide to do something, we’re looking for a result. Let’s make sure we don’t waste money; let’s make sure we’re doing it effectively and we’re getting the desired result.”
The Scottsdale mayoral election will be held on August 30, 2016. For more details, visit the City of Scottsdale Election Information page.