The Glendale city council has a once-in-lifetime opportunity. With the departure of former City Manager Brenda Fischer it has an opportunity to build a legacy of good government and meaningful leadership with its selection of the next City Manager.

City Managers since the departure in 2001 of City Manager, Dr. Martin Vanacour, created a culture of fear and dysfunctional ethical behavior among employees. The culture that grew after 2001 promoted a genuine distain for Glendale’s residents. While Brenda Fischer is the most recent city manager she is not totally responsible for a local governmental culture run amok.

For years and recently exacerbated, there has been a lack of employee confidence in senior management causing an exodus of talented professionals. Those who left observed the problems, refused to participate and simply moved on. The appointment of key personnel, from former city manager regimes, into positions of power (often abused) sent the wrong signal. At various times employees virtually spied on one another and have been required to report the context of any interaction with a councilmember to senior management. Various city managers instructed employees to withhold relevant information from selected councilmembers and in some cases, all councilmembers. Upper management has and currently still does, direct a certain viewpoint be presented to council rather than offering just the facts portraying both the negatives and positives of a proposal. The mantra delivered daily was “speak no evil” of or about Glendale. Massage negative perceptions and make them disappear.

Employees are trained to show the utmost respect for citizens. Yet these same employees are often sent out to shill an already preapproved and predetermined outcome to an unwitting public. The “Library War” is the most current example. It is far more important that they please the city manager than do the right thing for the good of the city and its residents.

Most personnel worked under these regimes silently. The few brave souls that witnessed unethical behavior or saw the use of misinformation and refused to lie about it blew the whistle and were forced out. Others, viewing the results, continued to keep silent and became complicit in allowing such a culture to thrive.

I am not referring, for want of a better term, to the “worker bees.” Worker bees are those men and women on the line delivering service daily, dealing one-on-one with residents’ concerns, picking up our trash, answering an emergency call or repairing a water line. Their culture is truly dedicated to Glendale’s residents.

Fischer’s misdeeds are merely the latest and most public demonstrations of a culture gone awry from the very top down. When employees see a city manager act unethically they quickly learn that it is acceptable. Such actions included the hiring of a then unqualified Frisoni as an Assistant City Manager; a public temper tantrum; the abrupt dismissal of Planning Director Jon Froke (more on this in an upcoming blog); allowing certain employees to resign and be rehired with a different title performing the same work for a lot more salary (more on this in an upcoming blog); and the request for targeted councilmembers’ emails.

Ed Beasley, a former City Manager, was known for his “inner circle” of senior personnel. He made sure his friends like Art Lynch (golden parachute) and Alma Carmichael (worked from Mississippi) were protected and his enemies…not so much. His control of the organization was absolute and he expected information on everyone and everything. When he received a majority of the council’s rebuke, no more than a slap on the wrist, for his DUI employees throughout the organization recognized he was unassailable. Another cultural message sent and received.

During the period when council was actively considering more personnel layoffs, Acting City Manager Horatio Skeete, remarked that he could not bring himself to recommend laying off employees because they were his “friends.” Another signal was sent throughout the organization – performance didn’t matter – it was who you knew. His message was clear – employees were more important than the financial health of the city.

What’s next? The council must appoint an Acting City Manager. That may occur as early as this Tuesday, February 17, 2015. Their best bet would be to ask Dick Bowers, former Scottsdale City Manager and Glendale’s Acting City Manager during council’s previous search. Mr. Bowers is a very intelligent man and understands the role of caretaker while the search is conducted. He also understands the principle of “do no harm.” Anyone currently within the Glendale organization who is appointed as Acting City Manager fully expects to vie for the job and expects it to be an advantage.

The search for a new City Manager should be a nationwide search. Hopefully council will select a candidate from Alaska or Timbuktu. This organization needs someone fresh, with no loyalties to specific personnel. This time a background check is required and someone should talk to candidate’s current management and line employees. Qualities to look for, in random order include:

  • Possesses integrity
  • Listens to all without prejudice
  • Welcomes change
  • Recognizes performance matters most
  • Encourages open two way dialogue
  • Interacts with all organizations and stakeholder interests within the community
  • Serves all councilmembers equally
  • Intelligent
  • Experienced
  • Ability to get along with all
  • Retain independence from council
  • Good communication skills
  • Can develop good rapport with council and employees
  • Although not required, someone who commits to living in Glendale

Will the Glendale city council squander this opportunity? It is possible. Four of the council were seated in January of 2012 and have two years each of current experience: Mayor Weiers, Vice Mayor Hugh (served on council for 5 years many years ago), Councilmembers Sherwood and Chavira. Three of the council were seated in January of this year and have two months each of experience: Councilmembers Turner, Tolmachoff and Aldama. Collectively the mayor and council have a total of 8 years and 6 months of council experience. While some of them have had other previous governmental experience (such as Mayor Weiers in state government) it’s not the same (no matter what they tell you) as serving on a local level as a councilmember.

Can council do their job of choosing a new City Manager effectively? Let’s hope they can. This time let’s hope that Councilmember Sherwood does not insert himself independently into the selection process and attempt to micromanage it in his favor. Let’s hope council can put political wrangling aside and realize the enormity of the challenge before them. Let’s hope they require the new city manager to clean house, eliminate protected classes of employees and restore organizational integrity and the people’s confidence in their local government. Let’s hope they possess the wisdom to allow the new city manager to do the job without their interference.

Let’s hope they can do the right thing.

© Joyce Clark, 2015


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which is in accordance with Title 17 U.S. C., Section 107. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democratic, scientific and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law and who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use,’ you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.