My name is Joseph Lewis and I am the owner of My Local News who publishes Tempe News along with eighteen other Arizona Community News Sites. Recently one of our reporters (Matthew Reeves) wrote an in depth investigative article titled “The long and storied history of Charles Huellmantel and the Farmer Arts District”. This article angered a lot of people who believe it was a personal attack by me against Mr. Huellmantel. It is true that I did publish the article and could have killed it, as even my wife wanted me to do, but the extensive research, cultivating of sources and great reporting can only be credited to Matthew.
Some would have you believe that the issue is simply whether Mr. Huellmantel & Associates are given entitlements to build 9 stories or 13 on Tempe owned land that he controls along Farmer Avenue through a decade old agreement. There are good arguments on both sides of that debate and I personally don’t have an opinion about the ultimate density of the project. What I do care passionately about is when the process is so broken that we as Tempeans and tax payers get left with the short end of the stick or in this case no stick at all.
I was on the Tempe City Council from 1992 to 2000 and looking back on it am guilty of having been caught up in the very problems we face today. I.E. the title of the article. Here are how things worked when I was on Council and I believe have only gotten worse. A good and “effective” developer or zoning attorney will become very social with the Mayor and City Council members, much like a lobbyist. Dinners, drinks, vacations and of course substantial campaign donations help as well. Then when said developer does not get everything they are asking for from staff with regard to a particular case they reach out to their favorite Councilperson. A conversation then takes place with the City Manager. The result of which is that Development Staff will often receive the directive from the “third floor” to resolve the issue in the developers favor. In fairness to Council Members staff is often so bullied that they give up trying and the Council is not given all of the information they need to make an informed decision. These are opinions not facts and I can only speak to what the process was like 16 years ago, not today.
This editorial is much more about a systemic problem at Tempe City Hall than it is about any one project. Mr. Huellmantel’s job is to represent his clients (even if that client is himself) to the best of his ability. He is very good at his job and there is nothing wrong with that. Hell, if I could control city owned property in Downtown Tempe that is worth North of $15,000,000 on the open market for essentially free the capitalist in me would be all over it. My question however is who is looking after us? Because as they say “it’s your money”.
At the very least I believe we should demand from our elected officials that a thorough internal audit of current practices should be completed. This audit should examine the extent of lobbying activity between council, staff, commissioners and hopefully suggest changes to a process that is blatantly flawed, at least in my opinion.
If you would like to share with your thoughts with the Tempe Mayor and Council their email is firstname.lastname@example.org
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