Jack Debolske


TED SIMONS: JACK DEBOLSKE IS NOT A HOUSEHOLD NAME BUT HE WAS ONCE DUBBED THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN ARIZONA AND THE FATHER OF THE VALLEY'S FREEWAY SYSTEM. HE WAS THE FORMER HEAD OF THE ARIZONA LEAGUE OF TOWNS AND MARICOPA ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENTS. DEBOLSKE, WHO PASSED AWAY EARLIER THIS MONTH, IS THOUGHT TO HAVE SHAPED THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PHOENIX AREA MORE THAN ANY OTHER SINGLE FIGURE. HERE TO TELL US MORE ABOUT DEBOLSKE AND HIS LASTING IMPACT IS MARICOPA ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENTS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR DENNIS SMITH, WHO WAS HIRED BY DEBOLSKE IN 1976. YOU WORKED WITH HIM FOR 20 YEARS.

DENNIS SMITH: 20 YEARS. 20 GREAT YEARS.

TED SIMONS: WELCOME TO ARIZONA. WHO WAS JACK DEBOLSKE?

DENNIS SMITH: HE WAS AN OLD SCHOOL PERSON. I THINK THE BIGGEST THING TO REMEMBER ABOUT JACK, IT WAS NEVER ABOUT HIM. THAT'S WHY YOU DIDN'T SEE HIM IN THE PAPER. HE WOULD ALWAYS PUT THE ELECTED OFFICIAL OUT FRONT AND HAD THE ELECTED OFFICIAL OWNING IF IT WAS THE LEAGUE OF ARIZONA CITIES AND TOWNS OR THE MARICOPA ASSOCIATION GOVERNMENTS. VERY SMART, RELENTLESS, VERY GOOD IN STRATEGY.

TED SIMONS: GUIDING PRINCIPLES. WHAT WAS HE LOOKING FOR IN TERM OF VISION FOR THE VALLEY, FOR THE STATE?

DENNIS SMITH: JACK WAS A PRAGMATIST. HE UNDERSTOOD THAT THE VALLEY WAS GOING TO GROW TREMENDOUSLY. WE WERE ALWAYS FIRST OR SECOND WITH LAS VEGAS IN TOTAL GROWTH, SO WHETHER WE NEEDED TO BUILD A TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM, THAT WASN'T THE QUESTION. WE HAD TO BUILD A TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM. I CAME IN 1976. WE TRAVELED DOWN TO THE LEAGUE OFFICE BY THE CAPITAL. TRAFFIC STOPPED AT THE PEPSI PLANT ON I-10. WE KNEW THAT WE HAD TO BUILD IT. WE HAD TO BUILD A QUALITY SYSTEM. HE COULD SEE THAT. HE WOULD INSPIRE THE ELECTED OFFICIALS TO TAKE RISK. THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WASN'T GOING TO DO IT. THE STATE GOVERNMENT WASN'T GOING TO DO IT. LOCAL ELECTED OFFICIALS HAD TO STAND UP.

TED SIMONS: THEY HAD TO STAND UP. SOME DIDN'T WANT TO STAND UP OR STOOD UP FOR SAYING WE DON'T WANT FREEWAYS, WE DON'T WANT TO BE LOS ANGELES, WE WANT TO KEEP PHOENIX PHOENIX. HOW DID HE GET PAST THAT?

DENNIS SMITH: THAT WAS 1984 WHEN I WAS BROUGHT BACK TO WORK ON TRANSPORTATION. WE HAD SUCH CONGESTION AT THAT POINT, THAT WE DIDN'T HAVE A LOT OF TROUBLE CONVINCING PEOPLE THAT WE NEEDED TO DO THIS. I HAVE HEARD A LOT OF NEGATIVE ABOUT ARIZONA REPUBLIC. WE ACTUALLY VISITED WITH A PUBLISHER FOR THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC AND HE WAS HELPFUL. WE WERE HAVING ISSUES WITH CROSSING THROUGH TEMPE AND HE WAS HELPING US.

TED SIMONS: WE HEARD THE PULLIAMS IN PARTICULAR WERE NOT ALL THAT FOND OF FREEWAYS. WAS THAT ACCURATE?

DENNIS SMITH: TOTALLY ACCURATE.

TED SIMONS: OKAY, BUT THE PAPER WOUND UP WHAT, COMING AROUND?

DENNIS SMITH: THEY TOTALLY WERE AROUND AND THEY WERE HELPING US.

TED SIMONS: HE ALSO PUSHED FOR STATE-SHARED REVENUE, HELPED WITH UNIFORM TAX POLICY, THESE KIND OF THING, THIS IS DEEP IN THE WEEDS KIND OF STUFF. BUT IT REALLY MAKES A DIFFERENCE FOR MUNICIPALITIES, DOES IT NOT?

DENNIS SMITH: HE WORKED WITH THE MAYOR THEN ON THE STATE-SHARED REVENUE. THAT WAS THE MOST ESSENTIAL THING FOR CITIES. GROUND WATER MANAGEMENT ACT. HE WAS ON THE RUMP GROUP. I WAS AT THE MEETING WHERE WE WERE COMING DOWN TO THE FINAL DECISIONS. JACK HAD THE OFFICIALS IN THERE FROM THE CITIES AND TOWNS. HE HAD THEM CONVINCED. IN WALKED BURTON BARR AND BRUCE BABBITT, AND THE CITIES GOT WHAT THEY WANTED.

TED SIMONS: MANAGING FREEWAYS, MANAGING TRANSPORTATION AND WATER. MANAGING CITY GOVERNMENT, GOING TO THE COUNCIL MANAGER SYSTEM. TALK TO US ABOUT THAT TYPE OF GOVERNMENT BECAUSE AT THE TIME, THAT WASN'T HAPPENING ALL THAT MUCH, WAS IT?

DENNIS SMITH: ARIZONA'S WALL TO WALL COUNCIL MANAGER FORM OF GOVERNMENT. WHAT THAT MEANS IS YOU HAVE THE ELECTED OFFICIALS SET THE POLICY AND YOU HAVE A PROFESSIONAL CITY MANAGER.WHAT MOST PEOPLE DON'T KNOW IS KATHY CONNOLLY WHO WORKED WITH JACK AT THE LEAGUE SPENT HER SATURDAYS. IF WE HAD A NEW CITY, SHE WAS MAKING THE MUNICIPAL CODE. SHE WAS MAKING SURE IT WAS COUNCIL MANAGER FORM OF GOVERNMENT. JACK SPENT HIS SUMMERS VISITING EVERY CITY THAT HAD NEW ELECTED OFFICIALS. WE WOULD BE AT CLIFTON. WE WOULD BE AT PATAGONIA. AND JACK WAS INVESTING IN THOSE ELECTED OFFICIALS. SO WHEN THE LEGISLATIVE SEASON CAME AROUND AND WE NEEDED HELP, THE PHONE CALL WENT IN AND THOSE PEOPLE WITH WERE WITH US.

TED SIMONS: AS FAR AS DEFINING A REGIONAL CENTER, REGIONAL COOPERATION, HE WAS BIG ON THAT AS WELL, AND THAT WAS HUGE IN GETTING THE VALLEY, AS OPPOSED TO PHOENIX, MESA, TEMPE, SCOTTSDALE, WHATEVER, THE VALLEY THINKING AS ONE.

DENNIS SMITH: RIGHT. WE HAD GOOD ELECTED OFFICIALS IN 1984 AND '85 WHEN WE WERE GOING FOR THE TRANSPORTATION ELECTION. THE ELECTED OFFICIALS, GEORGE RENNER WAS ONE OF THOSE. WE HAD SEVERAL OTHERS WHO REALLY BELIEVED IN WHAT WE WERE DOING. AND WENT OUT AND NEGOTIATED IT. JACK UNDERSTOOD THAT THE TECHNICAL DATA ONLY TAKES YOU SO FAR, IT'LL TAKE YOU TO 85 PERCENT, AND THE OTHER 15 PERCENT, YOU HAD TO MAKE SURE IF YOU WERE GOING TO HAVE A VOTE IN THE VALLEY, ALL SECTIONS OF THE VALLEY NEEDED TO GAIN FROM IT.

TED SIMONS: OBVIOUSLY, A MOVER AND SHAKER HUGELY HERE. HE DIDN'T SEEM TO WANT ATTENTION. WAS THAT HIS STYLE? WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT?

DENNIS SMITH: THAT WAS WHAT HE BELIEVED. IT WAS "RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP. IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU." IT WAS NEVER ABOUT JACK. I WENT TO VISIT THIS POWER BROKER IN 1976, I WAS AT AN EMPLOYMENT OFFICE AND I SAID, "WHAT ABOUT THIS JOB?" THEY SAID, "WE DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT IS. IF YOU WANT THAT JOB, WE'LL SET YOU UP WITH AN INTERVIEW." I TALKED TO THE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR KEN DRIGS AND HE WARNED ME. HE SAID "THE NEXT ONE WILL BE WITH JACK DEBOLSKE." I CHECKED HIM OUT WITH MY ASU PROFESSOR. HE SAID "GUY'S PRETTY TOUGH. YOU BETTER WATCH IT WHEN YOU GO IN THERE." I DIDN'T GO IN AND SEE A GUY IN A BROOKS BROTHER SHIRT. I SAW A GUY IN A GUAYABERA SHIRT. I WAS FROM MONTANA. I THOUGHT IT WAS A BARBER SHIRT. I ASKED HIM ONE DAY, I SAID "WHY ARE YOU WEARING THESE BARBER SHRITS?" HE WAS WEARING A GUAYABERA SHIRT AND A TIMEX WATCH. HE WASN'T ABOUT MAKING THE BIG SPLASH. WHY JACK GOT CORPORATION FROM EVERYONE, YOU COULD TAKE HIS WORD TO THE BANK. IF THINGS CHANGE, YOU CALL THE PEOPLE BACK AND TELL THEM THINGS CHANGED. THAT'S HOW HE GOT THE DEALS DONE.

TED SIMONS: WAS HE A TOUGH NEGOTIATOR?

DENNIS SMITH: HE WAS A PROBABLY THE BEST NEGOTIATOR. HE LEARNED FROM HIS MENTOR, THE NEGOTIATOR FOR THE CITY OF PHOENIX AND HE WAS A TOUGH SON OF A GUN.

TED SIMONS: COULD ANYONE LIKE THIS MAKE THAT KIND OF AN IMPACT ON THE VALLEY TODAY. OR WAS THAT A SPECIAL PERSON FOR A SPECIAL TIME?

DENNIS SMITH: I THINK TIMES HAVE CHANGED. THE QUALITY OF THE PEOPLE IN THE LEGISLATURE HAS CHANGED. BURTON BARR IS A GREAT EXAMPLE. ALFREDO GUTIERREZ IS ANOTHER EXAMPLE. YOU COULD GIVE YOUR WORD AND GET SOMETHING DONE. IT'S DIFFERENT NOW.

TED SIMONS: IT'S DIFFERENT, BUT DO YOU SEE THAT POSSIBLY CHANGING, AGAIN WITH THE REAGAN DOCTRINE, "ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN AS LONG AS NO ONE ASKS FOR CREDIT," CAN SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T NEED THAT CREDIT, COULD THEY MAKE A DIFFERENCE TODAY?

DENNIS SMITH: I THINK IT HAPPENS AT MAG. THAT'S OUR ENTIRE STYLE. JACK'S PRINCIPLES LIVE ON THROUGH MAG. THE WHOLE STAFF UNDERSTANDS THAT. THE ELECTED OFFICIALS WORK WELL IN MAG BECAUSE THEY NEVER SEE THE DIRECTOR OR STAFF MEMBER COMPETING WITH THEM. OUR STAFF IS OUT THERE PROMOTING THEM AND THEY'RE OUT THERE TAKING THE POLITICAL RISKS FOR US.

TED SIMONS: ONCE HE RETIRED, LEFT MAG, SITTING THERE LOOKING AROUND, SAYING I DID WELL, WHY IS THERE NO DEBOLSKE PARK, WHY AREN'T THINGS NAMED AFTER THIS GUY?

DENNIS SMITH: THE ONLY THING HE ASKED ME TO DO IS WRITE THE BOOK ABOUT MAG. HE THOUGHT I DID A GOOD JOB. PROBABLY FOUR WEEKS BEFORE HE PASSED, KELLY TAFT AND I OR OUR COMMUNICATION'S DIRECTOR WALKED IN, HANDED HIM THE BOOK. THAT'S ALL HE ASKED US FOR. GET THE BOOK DONE.

TED SIMONS: THAT WAS A GREAT MOMENT, I IMAGINE.

DENNIS SMITH: IT WAS AND JACK APPRECIATED IT. WE ALSO DID THE VIDEOS -- HE WROTE THE FORWARD FOR THE BOOK. WE NEED MORE LIKE HIM. I'M NOT SURE IF WE'LL FIND MORE LIKE HIM.

TED SIMONS: THANK YOU FOR COMING ON AND TALKING ABOUT JACK. SO MANY CHANGES AND SUCH AN IMORTANT PERSON. IT WAS GOOD TO HAVE YOU.

DENNIS SMITH: THANK YOU.

Many people in the Phoenix area may never have heard of Jack Debolske, the former head of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns and the Maricopa Association of Governments. Behind the scenes, Debolske, who passed away this month, helped shape the development of the Phoenix area, probably more than any other single figure. MAG executive director Dennis Smith, who worked with Debolske for 20 years, will tell us more.

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In this segment:

Dennis Smith: MAG Executive Director

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