Managing the Manager

Contrary to the opinion of some of our less-well-informed city council members AND the Scottsdale Republic, the problem with hiring a city manager is not that we have a city treasurer [Firm finding candidates to be next city manager].

The Republic asserts that

The successful candidate will have to accept Scottsdale’s administrative organizational structure, which is unique with a city treasurer who reports directly to the council.

My dictionary says that “unique” means “one of a kind.” Scottsdale is not unique in having a city treasurer, nor in having a city treasurer who is a charter officer (i.e., specifically called out in the City Charter–our “constitution”–, serving at the pleasure of, and reporting to the city council). Glendale is one example of another Arizona city which has an council-appointed city treasurer.

Scottsdale has a council-manager government, one of two predominant forms of municipal government in the nation and common in Arizona. It relies on a council or other legislative body to appoint a city manager, who is similar to a chief executive officer.

In Scottsdale, the treasurer supervises the Finance and Accounting Department, while the city manager oversees almost all other city departments.

Actually, the city manager oversees most of the city’s employees, but there are departments under the charter officers (city attorney, city clerk, chief judge, city auditor) which are not under the direct supervision of the city manager.

The problem with the city manager is that a) he or she is the most visible of the charter officers, and b) the shareholders (citizens) frequently elect a board of directors (city council) that doesn’t really look out for them (citizens). It is an impossible dilemma for a city manager.

As long as council and mayoral candidates are successful at getting elected by misdirection or outright dishonesty, this fundamental conflict will continue to spit out city managers every couple of years.

I can’t pass up the opportunity to point out yet again the wisdom of my favorite council member.

“We need to make sure we are really clear as to how this organization works and what the city manager’s role is,” Councilwoman Linda Milhaven said.

I don’t know to whom Milhaven is reporting when she says, “we,” but I think “I” understand pretty well the organization and the role of the city manager within it. I can read and it’s right in the City Charter. Which makes me wonder if she has read the City Charter herself.

Milhaven asked if the city is operating “as the charter amendment intended,” adding later that she was “not challenging the charter” or questioning voters. She did say she would like to see the council and city “revisit the organizational chart in a lot more detail.”

Note that Milhaven doesn’t mention anything about including the citizens in that ‘revisiting’ of the org chart.

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