This column by former city treasurer (and now council candidate) David Smith appeared in the Republic this morning. Mr. Smith has eloquently captured a part of the systemic problem we face. Unfortunately, his lack of track record of involvement in these issues is reflected in the fact that he completely omits the city council’s ignorance of or intentional disregard for Scottsdale’s General Plan. That is the policy document which–if heeded–would have prevented the liquor license concentrations in our bar district, and kept housing density at a reasonable level.
Ironically, the public safety overtime bill is less than one quarter of the amount paid by the city every year to the Scottsdale Cultural Council for ‘management’ of our cultural arts assets under a free-rent, 20-year, no-bid contract with zero performance metrics. Smith’s wife is on the board of trustees of that private business.
Council’s ‘vision’ contributes to public-safety overtime
The Scottsdale city manager has promised an “in-depth analysis of the issue of overtime spending” by public safety. His report might identify opportunities for better management practices, but hopefully the report also will explore the causes and effects of overtime. Tourism is a cause, for sure, but so may be council’s pursuit of visions for the makeover of our city. When I was chief financial officer at the Tennessee Valley Authority, we grappled with how to improve electric service reliability from 99.99% to 99.999%. For utilities, service reliability carries the same high priority as public safety does for a community.
At TVA, we committed enormous dollars to the salaries and overtime of repair crews to quickly resolve power interruptions. However, we realized the goal of improved reliability only when we began treating the cause rather than the consequences; when we invested more to avoid outages, rather than adding more work crews to restore power.
The Scottsdale City Council has approved dozens of Class 6 bar licenses and applauds our entertainment district as a tourism mecca. When I was Scottsdale’s city treasurer, I submitted a report identifying sales-tax revenues and expenses of bar-license businesses. Bar licensees in the entertainment district generated $400,000 of sales tax; but incremental public-safety expenses were more than $1.2 million! Council’s pursuit of its “vision” to develop Arizona’s most concentrated drinking district requires more public-safety employees and/or more overtime.
The council also has authorized taller, denser housing developments, altering our city’s socioeconomic demographics and creating a demand for more city services, particularly public safety. Again, council’s pursuit of its “vision” requires more public-safety employees and/or more overtime.
Readers should not be surprised if the city manager lays some blame for public-safety overtime at the feet of council. Residents should then rightfully question whether these council visions represent the visions of residents. At a minimum, residents should demand the council exercise financial integrity and transparency … asking for and studying the public-safety implications of the “visions” pursued.
David N. Smith was Scottsdale city treasurer from 2009 to 2013 and now is a candidate for City Council.