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Shirley Scott about to end 24 years of service on Tucson City Council
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Shirley Scott about to end 24 years of service on Tucson City Council

Councilwoman Shirley Scott shares a laugh with City Manager Michael Ortega shortly before the start of a study session.

It would be hard to point to one thing in Ward 4 that singularly represents the legacy Councilwoman Shirley Scott leaves after 24 years in office.

Even a Top 10 list would hardly be enough for a woman who spent more than two decades on the Tucson City Council transforming the east-side district. While it is easy to see growth in downtown Tucson as new buildings go up, the east side has seen similar growth, but not in the form of skyscrapers.

Scott is retiring from the council and her last official day is Monday, when the new council members and incoming Mayor Regina Romero are sworn into office. Nikki Lee won the November election to replace fellow Democrat Scott in Ward 4.

Scott, 78, remembers the early years when she went door to door trying to get elected to replace then-outgoing Councilman Roger Sedlmayr. She was asking voters in 1995 to support a relative newcomer who wanted to bring new hospitals, parks, libraries and fire and police stations to the east side.

“They would say, ‘I don’t believe you. This is just going to be some more housing. We don’t get any services out here,’” Scott remembers.

She wouldn’t be swayed, telling every naysayer that she would invite them back to celebrate when the firehouse was built in the east-side ward.

The first new firehouse for her sprawling district was built in 1999 and she hasn’t looked back, pushing for various private developments on the east side, including the Rita Ranch and Civano communities.

City staff members sometimes seemed to ignore the east side of town, she said.

“I was once told by the city parks director at the time, there were nine recreation centers west of Alvernon,” Scott remembers.

But that didn’t help families living 15 miles to the east.

“I have 600 children in Rita Ranch who want to play Little League baseball and there is no field there,” she remembers telling the staffer.

Scott smiles as she concedes she had a particular way about asking for projects.

“I tried to make light of my presentations to folks. I would say things like, ‘Well, if you’re not going to give me a bus, which I was asking for a lot, then give me a road. We need roads, but if we’re not getting a bus, give me a road. I have neither right now. And all of it is neglected. Which one do you think we should do?’” she said, adding that the tactic worked.

Scott says she was not the first choice for Democrats looking for a replacement for Sedlmayr.

Several community members came to her house one night, hoping to sway her husband, Joseph, to run for office. He was well known in city circles for serving on a number of boards and commissions, and they wanted him to represent Ward 4.

“They came to my house, I made homemade cookies and lemonade and these people said, ‘We need to talk with Joe. We need to speak with him because he’s the guy,’” Scott remembers.

He politely declined, noting he had to take care of his business and his employees.

It was only then that these strangers, munching on her cookies and sipping her lemonade, realized they had been talking to the wrong person in the room.

“After scratching their chins for a while, they looked at me and said, ‘What about you?’ So I always say I was the second alternative, the second string, the junior varsity,” Scott said.

But few will remember Shirley Scott as the junior varsity.

She rose quickly through the ranks of the League of Cities and Towns, advocating for Tucson but also going to other parts of the country and then traveling internationally.

Her passion was growth and economic development.

She is proud of the Civano development, which has earned worldwide attention as a model for a mixed-use, sustainable community.

“A lot of people forget that we pioneered sustainability, solar, actual planned communities where you could live, work, play, go to school all in one place. We pioneered all of that out here,” Scott said.

“My long-range vision was if we do it right 50 years from now, there will be some group that will come along and say, ‘I noticed that several years ago the city of Tucson had an opportunity the same way we do and they did it right,’” Scott said.

Les Shipley, a founding member of Civano and the owner of the Civano Nursery, said Scott helped secure the city’s financial commitment, which led to the Federal National Mortgage Association helping to finance the development.

Shipley said that without Scott, the master-planned community might not have gotten off the ground.

Outgoing Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said Scott is an expert on her ward, seeming to know every square inch of it and the challenges it faces.

Rothschild remembers meeting Shirley at a diner.

“She sat me down and said, ‘This is how we live out here on the east side,” he recalls.

“She took me into some neighborhoods that were pretty rough and she said, ‘Look, you know, everybody thinks that we’re very affluent out here, but we have the same problems that every other ward has.’”

Rothschild credits her with always advocating for her district, securing project after project to help bring resources to the east side.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson

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Joe has been with the Star for six years. He covers politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona. He graduated from the UA and previously worked for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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