Wow! It’s difficult to summarize the 2 1/2 hour, April 2, 2013, Glendale city council workshop into about 1,500 words – but here goes. First up was the city’s Intergovernmental Director, Brent Stoddard, reporting on HB 2657 before the state legislature. In a nutshell, cities can support 7 provisions of the bill but 3 provisions are in dispute with the state. The legislature wants the state Department of Revenue (DOR) to collect all sales taxes from all cities in the state. Currently Glendale and 17 others collect their sales taxes, report and remit the state’s portion to the state. Guess the state doesn’t trust those cities. The cities have countered with a proposal to offer a one-stop portal through a third party that would be managed by the DOR. I guess the state doesn’t trust cities to audit businesses either and want to take over that function exclusively as well. The cities have proposed the creation of uniform auditing standards; and the ability to request of and notify the DOR so that a city could still perform the audit. Lastly, the issue of dreaded construction sales tax issue was discussed. It appears that both sides, the state and the cities, are miles apart on this one. No resolution to be had as of this date. Stay tuned for the next chapter on this issue.
Next up was the Police department presentation by Interim Chief Black. Our fearless leader of and advocate for all things Public Safety Councilmember Chavira asked, if the department was adequately staffed to protect residents and keep officers safe. After winnowing through all of the rhetoric, Chief Black reluctantly said, yes by saying, “we are meeting the needs of the community as best we can with the allocated funding.” How’s that for threading the needle?
Chief Black and her department are to be commended for their innovation and creativity. As a result of their reorganization efforts patrol staffing will go from 166 to 182 officers, increasing an officer’s pro-active patrol time from a low of 11 minutes to about 16 minutes per hour. That is phenomenal considering Glendale’s current financial position. Their adoption of a new CAD system this fall will include an automated vehicle locator on all patrol cars enabling the dispatcher to send the closest available unit. This new system will create fuel cost savings and reduce response times.
Naturally, Councilmember Alvarez admitted that she didn’t understand all the numbers and “stuff.” Based upon her Ouija board, she KNOWS that the city’s residents are not well protected, especially in south Glendale, the area in which she lives and which she represents. The heck with the entire city. She went on to say that she didn’t want Chief Black to be a good employee and to work within the city’s fiscal constraints. Alvarez also said “we have to put more officers out there” and we can take dollars from programs that are a luxury. It will be interesting to see what she defines as a luxury.
There was a lot of discussion about the 8 police zones into which the city is currently configured. It seems no one on council could wrap their heads around this concept. What was not communicated is that all zones are not created equally, at least in size. Their dimensions are based on the number of calls for service as well as what makes sense geographically for patrol and response times. The more calls for service in an area, the smaller the zone gets.
Vice Mayor Knaack then said the level of police staffing was “unacceptable.” By whose or what definition? I guess the fact that our police department in July, 2012, was re-accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement (CALEA) once again and for the first time was awarded the Gold Standard doesn’t mean anything and can be ignored. Really? When pressed by Knaack, Chief Black indicated it would be nice to be at fully authorized strength by adding another 31 officers. Bingo. Yet the police department has $7M as contingency in their public safety sales tax fund. I, like Vice Mayor Knaack, remember distinctly that one of the purposes of this public safety sales tax was to hire more officers.
Fire Chief Burdick’s presentation was interesting for what he said but also for what he did not say. The fire department still holds to a 4 person staffing model on all of its engine and ladder trucks and one is a firefighter/paramedic on each truck. Four men on a truck to answer fire calls is necessary to meet OSHA’s 2-in-2-out law. That mandate makes sense. That means for a working fire, while 2 firefighters are in a building, there are 2 on the outside to make rescue if necessary. Perfectly logical for working fire service calls. True, the number of working fires has increased by 26% due to automatic aid. Are all of those working fires in Glendale? Probably not.
The vast majority of calls are medical (estimate is that they are at least 80% of all calls for service) requiring either advanced life support or basic life support. Why doesn’t the city have smaller vehicles staffed with paramedics? When a fire unit is dispatched it is told what kind of call to which it is going to respond. Smaller vehicles used for medical calls would be more fuel efficient and cost less to operate and maintain and would not require 4 man units. Or perhaps a medical transport vehicle with 2 Glendale paramedics on board should be sent. There has to be a better, more cost efficient way to respond to medical calls than sending a very big and very expensive fire truck.
Mayor Weiers did ask about automatic aid and what was the ratio of calls between Phoenix and Glendale and Peoria and Glendale. Bravo. Not surprisingly, Chief Burdick didn’t have that information and said he would provide it. This is typical of staff when there is a question that they would rather not answer publicly. Usually it’s because the answer doesn’t advance their cause. Weiers did bring up another suggestion, the use of an LPN in answering medical calls. The LPN could write prescriptions and make a determination if medical transport was needed. That idea met with a great deal of resistance by Chief Burdick despite his admission that it is a model being used in Mesa. It could very well be an idea whose time has come. Using a truck that gets 5 miles to the gallon with 4 firefighters/paramedic is no longer cost effective at a time when the majority of calls for service are medical.
Chief Burdick, after this annoying interruption with questions of fact, was then asked by Councilmember Chavira if the department was adequately staffed and if firefighters were safe. Once again, cutting through the rhetoric, his answer was, yes today, quickly followed by a need to address excessive call volume. Whose? Those of Glendale residents? Phoenix residents? Peoria residents? We don’t know because that information was not provided.
Vice Mayor Knaack cut to chase and asked what he needed. Immediately the chief responded with another 15 firefighters and another truck ($650,000 price tag but would pay $65K a year in a lease back). Bingo.
The councilmembers’ questions certainly fed both departments’ agendas of “gimme more.” And why wouldn’t they? Look at some facts. In the last election cycle both unions, police and fire, supported Weiers, Sherwood, Hugh and Chavira. Vice Mayor Knaack and Councilmember Martinez received the same healthy union support in their last reelection bid in 2010. The police union was a minor player in both elections not having the same political war chest or available personnel as the fire union. The fire union, on the other hand, made sure there were cash contributions by individual, non-Glendale, firefighters to their campaigns, paid for printing and mailing campaign literature and paid for and put up campaign signs for these very same people now deciding to beef up these departments-because staffing levels are “unacceptable.” There is nothing illegal about any of these actions. It’s Politics 101 but it doesn’t serve, you, the taxpayer very well. Perhaps the parks and recreation people or the finance people need a union to level the playing field.
Under Council Items of Special Interest, Councilmember Sherwood called for starting a search for a permanent City Attorney. What was truly mind-boggling was Councilmember Alvarez’ request that the City submit grant applications to the Tohono O’odham tribe for Public Safety dollars. What about we are still in litigation with the TO doesn’t she understand? When one is in a legally adversarial position with another, one does not ask for handouts from his adversary. She also thinks the city is mean and nasty because it owns the web page for the West Valley Resort and the TO has to pay the city annually for the right to use it. It is true. Congratulations to the city for pulling such a wonderfully, snarky yet brilliant move.
Council then adjourned into Executive session. Topics up for discussion: external audit, arena RFP, compensation for departing City Attorney and compensation for the new Interim City Manager. I suspect we will find out the results in a day or two.