Hidden Editorial: City Manager Hiring Difficulties

The following editorial appeared in this morning’s Scottsdale Republic.In my humble opinion, the editor has (once again) missed the mark. While seeming to blame previous city managers for “acrimony” left in their wake, he ignores the fact that every one of them was hired, directed, and fired by the Mayor and City Council.

As long as the mayor and council members can lie their way to elected office where they subsequently stab the citizens in the back, they will need a scapegoat. The reason we don’t get better quality candidates to fill the post is that no one with better options wants to be the next speed bump.

Lack of high-quality city-manager candidates unsurprising

“Exits by officials costly for Scottsdale,” read a July 2012 Scottsdale Republic headline. The story that followed detailed how city taxpayers had paid $328,000 in settlements to outgoing city managers in the previous four years.

Each of those city managers — John Little, Jan Dolan and David Richert — left amid acrimony and growing dis­cord with elected officials at City Hall.

The headline reads differently — though no less accurately — today, in light of last week’s release of the three finalists to be our newest city manager.

Their backgrounds are conspicuous­ly underwhelming. One has never served as manager of a city larger than Deltona, Fla., a retirement community with a little more than one-third of Scottsdale’s population.

Another has worked since 2005 as assistant city manager for development services of Palm Springs.

The third is four months removed from being controversially fired from his post as Tempe’s city manager, as the city’s council members assailed his communication skills and inability to focus on meaningful policy.

It’s hard to imagine what the re­sumes of the rejected applicants must have looked like.

Does this mean any of these three finalists can’t do an adequate job in Scottsdale? Of course not. But it’s worth wondering why more appealing candidates for the position are passing on this opportunity.

One likely factor is our state’s rep­utation. Arizona might be a fine place in which to retire, but we suspect a strong candidate might think twice about uprooting his or her family to a state with an abysmal educational system and a Legislature with a disgraceful track record in recent years.

The more relevant track record, however, might be that of our own city’s upper management.

Mayor Lane was instrumental in amending the City Charter in 2010 to broaden the authority of City Treasurer David Smith, a decision that drew scru­tiny at the time.

The subsequent instability of Scotts­dale city managers since 2010 is no coincidence. John Little hinted as much shortly after Richert stepped down last July, saying, “I would only offer that David’s resignation did not strike me as a bolt out of the blue.”

That our finalists today carry rela­tively uninspiring backgrounds should be similarly unsurprising.

On the bright side, the new manager will inherit a city and council in relative peace, at least compared with recent history. The city isn’t involved in any litigation, and the new council reaches an easy consensus on most major issues one 5-2 vote at a time.

But the recent exodus of city man­agers remains disquieting in its influ­ence on Scottsdale’s nationwide search for its next one. Yes, enhancing the treasurer’s authority improved this city’s fiscal transparency and account­ability, which was Lane’s stated intent — but now we’re seeing the cost at which it came.

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