Voice of Scottsdale on the Richert Predicament

Voice of Scottsdale posted an article this morning about the recent firings/resignations of city managers David Richert and John Little, Terry Welker in human resources, and Scottsdale Public Art Director Valerie Vadala Homer at the psuedo-independent Scottsdale Cultural Council (which gets more than half its funding–over $4 million annually–from the taxpayers of the City of Scottsdale).

As I said in a column in July about the Richert predicament and in a column last week about Jim Lane’s hilarious self-contradictory call for “ethical management,” the Voice agrees that there’s more to back story than Jim Lane would like for the average voter to know.

On the other hand, I disagree strongly on a few of the points in this Voice article, as you’ll note from my comments interspersed in italics. Here’s the article:

When Is A Resignation Actually An Opportunity?

It’s said that bad things come in sets of three. But could three things that initially looked like bad things actually be good things?

You be the judge …

In the private sector, when an employer wants to get rid of an employee, they reduce their hours, demote them or, as a last resort, flat-out fire them. In the public sector, employees are usually dealt with more tactfully. Political correctness comes into play – like with the recent circumstances surrounding former City Manager David Richert, the city’s former Executive Director of the Human Resources Department Terry Welker and former Director of Public Art Valerie Vadala Homer.

The Facts: Richert, Welker and Vadala Homer resigned.

The Truth: The estranged employees were given little choice.

The exits of Richert, Welker and Vadala Homer provide the city and the Cultural Council, the city’s arts and cultural partner, with opportunities. This could be a time to push the reset button. The city and Cultural Council now have a chance for a fresh start at fixing the issues that contributed to the three so-called resignations.

Clearly, there has been a disconnect between the City Council and the last two city managers. The two were hired with a lot of fanfare, and then quickly fell out of favor – especially with Mayor Lane, who says he “lost trust” in both David Richert and John Little with less than two years into their respective tenures.

Let’s set aside the smokescreens: The mayor and council need to sharpen their communication skills with charter officers, staff … and with each other.

No one expects the mayor and council to agree on every issue. But we elect them to work together for taxpayers. So they should start communicating better with one another to reduce the reoccurring reasons they seem to be working at cross-purposes.

When Jim Lane took office four years ago, he put the kibosh on open-meeting retreats for council members to discuss their overall objectives and to set goals for the city. Scheduling those sessions needs to be revisited.

The next City Council will be seated in January, with at least two new members. That will be an opportunity to revive the retreat process — particularly before hiring the third city manager in five years.

I disagree strongly that the problems leading to Richert’s termination (or whatever) were the result of poor communications. I think Lane and the Chamber of Commerce (through “their” council members, Robbins, Milhaven, Klapp, and McCullagh) communicated exactly what they expected of Richert. And Richert delivered; witness all the controversial zoning projects that were rammed through the system over the objections of residents.

I’ll stand on my previous statement that Richert’s firing was political expediency. The controversies generated by screwing the residents over-and-over became too much heat in the kitchen. The Lane-led council needed a pre-election scapegoat. Unfortunately, too many community activists foolishly focused their ire on Richert, and Lane’s cronies escaped the fallout by dumping Richert.

Moving on to the Human Resources Department …

The recent departure of Terry Welker, the former executive director of Human Resources, has been well documented. So now what? No one is sure what Acting City Manager Dan Worth intends to recommend for rebuilding the decimated department.

HR has been a weak link in the city’s chain of departments for as long as most employees can remember. Historically, it has been left to function on its own with little attention paid to how it’s faring for employees. Now the department has been exposed for what many of the city’s 2,500 employees have been experiencing for years: sloppy services from an overworked staff who have been impacted by an infusion of politics from management.

With Welker’s exit, this is the city’s chance to reconstruct the HR Department, once and for all. Given the sad state of the department, the city has no choice.

The sooner the better before City Treasurer David Smith uses this as an opportunity to become even more involved in city employee compensation issues.

See my earlier article for my thoughts on Welker’s departure. I will add that to the extent that HR is rife with sloppy service and politics, it has been going on for a long time and Jim Lane (along with the rest of the council) knows all about it. They are the ones charged with looking out for the long-term health of Scottsdale’s city government and they’ve done nothing about this problem.

As for City Treasurer David Smith, I have my issues with him. However, I have to accord him great respect for his willingness to speak up on mismanagement by fiscal dilettantes Jim Lane, Linda Milhaven, Ron McCullagh; and uncaring Robbins and Klapp. Smith’s boldness is especially appreciated regarding the dishonest portrayal of the economic contribution of the bar district, and the outright lies about the city’s budget deficit.

And, finally, it’s the Cultural Council that may have the biggest opportunity of all …

Following Valerie Vadala Homer’s resignation as director of Public Art, Dick Hayslip took her place last month until someone is hired permanently to steer Scottsdale’s award-winning program.

Hayslip has been serving on the Cultural Council’s Board of Trustees. The former SRP executive is well respected throughout the community, so he is expected to bring some stability to what has been the chaotic circumstances surrounding the relationship between the Cultural Council and the Public Art Board for the past couple of years.

Now that Vadala Homer has been removed, the bitter feud between her and the Cultural Council’s CEO Bill Banchs is finished. So this should be the opportunity to finally resolve the ongoing dispute about how revenue is raised to fund the Public Arts Program – and if public art should secede from the council to do so.

But don’t be surprised if there is more housecleaning ahead. Some people may see this as an opportunity to press Bill Banchs to resign.

It’s interesting how diametrically opposite my perspective is on these issues. First, the comment,

Hayslip has been serving on the Cultural Council’s Board of Trustees.

I would have said that Hayslip has been serving, “for years.” Which begs the question, how is the Cultural Council so absolutely broken after Hayslip’s years of service in control of it?

My short answer is that for the most recent of  those years he blindly followed the lead of Linda Milhaven (yes, THAT Linda Milhaven), who as chair of the SCC board of trustees hired Bill Banchs, covered up his incompetence, and buffaloed the rest of the board into believing everything was peachy.

Bill Banchs absolutely will leave the organization and soon. It’s just amazing that under the leadership of geniuses like Dick Hayslip and the rest of the SCC Board of Trustees that he’s lasted this long.

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