Furious George

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Zraket acknowledges that a good chunk of the $17,000 he raised for his first campaign came from Pinnacle Peak residents. But he denies being at the group's disposal.

"They didn't own me or buy me. They embraced me," he says. "We had very common bonds about our lifestyle, our quality of life, and we weren't going to allow government to take it away."

Zraket points out, and city documents support it, that he has voted against issues backed by the Pinnacle Peak coalition.

"I will listen to everybody. I will take all the input I can get. But ultimately, I'm going to make the decision."

On May 19, 1998, Zraket dominated a runoff election, gaining 9,812 votes -- 53 percent of the vote -- to win one of two open council seats.

A new chapter in city politics was about to be written.

Anyone who says he has been surprised by Zraket's stance on council issues never bothered to read Zraket's campaign literature in 1998.

He openly said he opposed growth, favored less traffic and fewer development deals and supported the city buying more open space to be preserved.

Those on the council who had dealt with him during his neighborhood rezoning fight knew what to expect. Yet everyone, he says, seemed surprised once he claimed his seat.

Not that the council made it easy.

"They didn't want me there," he says. "Anybody else probably wouldn't have made the first six months."

Though he often found himself a lone voice, Zraket championed following the rules. He read the fine print of city law and spoke out whenever he felt the council was deviating.

One of the first fights, and one that continues today, four years later, involved executive sessions. State law says public bodies can meet behind closed doors to discuss issues pertaining to legal advice or personnel matters. The law has been tweaked over the years, but it essentially limits what can be said and specifically states that no action can be taken in private, such as a vote.

Zraket made it a habit to point out the law. He often got up in the middle of executive sessions and walked out. Sometimes he refused to show altogether.

His actions have been criticized, both by fellow council members and the public. Most recently, in December 2001, Zraket and Councilman David Ortega exchanged electronic messages about Zraket's stance. Ortega had admonished Zraket for leaving council meetings early after Zraket, in an e-mail to the entire council, criticized an item that had been discussed behind closed doors.

"The public might say I'm not doing my job," Zraket tells New Times. "I'm doing it in a way that takes a lot of fortitude and guts."

Zraket says the reasons for his decision to vacate executive meetings will never be known because executive session minutes are confidential and not public.

"I just believe the open meeting law should be followed very strictly, not only to the letter of the law, but the spirit," he says.

Councilman Ned O'Hearn supports the position.

"I think George is a relentless crusader against government abuse of the public trust. He refuses to tolerate good-old-boyism, sweetheart deals, insider politics. He's absolutely honest in that conviction," O'Hearn says. "George is outspoken. He's contentious at times, and he's uncompromising. But, frankly, the way I see it, that's what you look for in a leader when the odds are against you."

During public meetings, Zraket has voted against the majority on numerous occasions. Some of those votes have been misunderstood, such as an April 2000 vote against the Jewish Community Center

"I caught a lot of flak for that," he says.

The Scottsdale Tribune, in its editorial pages, published several anonymous opinions it received from citizens about the issue. The opinions painted Zraket as anti-Semitic.

Zraket, according to council minutes from the meeting, voted against the center because the council refused to grant a request from residents of the city's Sweetwater neighborhood for a continuance to allow residents to tweak a few design issues at the center. The issues involved increased traffic and ballfield lights that would shine directly onto their homes.

"I saw me," Zraket says, "just a resident who came to city council with a petition."

Other council members saw it the same way.

"All he was trying to do was buy a couple of more weeks for the neighbors to have input into the plan. He was in favor of the Jewish Community Center," says Councilman Tom Silverman. "I think it was very unfair [to suggest Zraket was anti-Semitic]. They also tried to paint him as anti-Semitic in the recall election. I've known George for over 20 years. That's the furthest thing [from the truth]."

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John W. Allman