The Man: Jack DeBolske
by J. Charles 'Chuck' Coughlin | August 18, 2017
Bob Robb, my former employer and mentor, recently wrote a laudatory column about Jack DeBolske who passed away in July and will be memorialized tomorrow (Noon services here in Phoenix at St. Francis Church).
Mr. DeBolske was, and still is, an icon to anyone who wishes to make government function as efficiently as possible. His passion was for local government, the level closest to the people, and he wanted to prove that it could function efficiently and effectively. He was my icon as well.
Mr. DeBolske was the Executive Director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, and as such, he wielded a significant amount of influence with the state’s mayors. In turn, they worked well together and established the League as a significant voice at the State Legislature. It was largely a pre-partisan era of cooperation, where understanding one another’s challenges didn’t result in partisan political attacks but rather in a phone call that came with some much-needed advice and an offer of assistance.
Mr. DeBolske valued relationships over partisan interests and understood that Arizona’s economic success was tied to mutual cooperation; the state with the federal government, the cities and counties with the Governor and the Legislature. He had a genuine interest in resolving conflict out of the public eye – which is why so very few people outside of government ever knew about Mr. DeBolske.
As Robb pointed out in his column, Jack’s accomplishments were legendary:
- Organized the effort to establish the first ever vote to build the valley freeway system through a ½ cent sales tax in 1985.
- Created the Regional Transportation Planning Entity, the Maricopa Association of Governments.
- Led the 1972 citizen initiative that established Urban Revenue Sharing – which led to unprecedented degrees of cooperation between State Government, Cities, Towns and Counties and ushered in a period of unrivaled economic growth and opportunity.
- Coordinated municipal and county cooperation around the landmark 1980 Groundwater Management Act – California still does not have such an act even today.
While these few stand out, there were many more significant accomplishments that can be credited to Mr. DeBolske. To be certain, the old adage does have some truth – Jack broke a few eggs to make his omelets and that made him some powerful critics. But instead of holding grudges or dwelling on those disputes, he looked to the next opportunity to make friends and solve the next challenge.
My only interaction with him personally came in 1991, when I represented Attorney General Grant Woods in the Arizona Legislature. It was a strange session, as AZSCAM had just hit and the House Judiciary Chairman had been indicted on bribery charges. I was learning my way around the process when a freshmen Democrat, Phil Hubbard, introduced legislation to require the Attorney General’s office to make an annual report on our RICO funds. The RICO Act, or The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, permitted law enforcement officials to seize the assets of criminal enterprises and was a valuable tool for law enforcement agencies.
The bill was sailing through the legislative process, despite our objections, when I suggested to its sponsor that he amend it in conference committee to include all of the other jurisdictions in the state which also had such funds – nearly every city in Arizona. At this time, those committees had no notification requirements. Overnight, every city in Arizona was swept up in the same mandate – my intent of course, was to kill the bill because the police chiefs and cities brought a lot more credibility to the table than the Attorney General. They had more credibility because of their leader, Jack DeBolske.
The bill was headed to the floor of both Houses for a final concurrence vote when I got a call from Mr. DeBolske asking me to visit him at his office. I obliged and was met with a room full of police chiefs and City employees, who were less than impressed with my amendment. Mr. DeBolske took the opportunity to lecture me about the proper way to do things in Arizona; his point was that I should have picked up the phone and called him and asked for help. Truth be told, I was too intimidated to call him and knew that if I got the amendment on, the bill would be his problem and not mine.
Suffice it to say, that bill died and was forgotten. His lesson, however, was not.
Thank you, Jack, for letting me borrow your influence for a short period of time and for creating the opportunities that you did for Arizona. Thank you for your integrity, honesty and class – you are missed terribly today. And mostly, I am sorry for not picking up the phone and calling. When I know you would have solved my problem for me.
May God bless Mr. DeBolske and may his spirit continue to infiltrate through the cracks of partisanship which are eroding our democracy today.