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Joyce Clark Unfiltered

For "the rest of the story"

As promised here is the rest of the story on the city council workshops held on March 18, 2014. The morning session was devoted to money – the budget, the medical benefits plan and an increase in fire staffing.

The General Fund budget discussion yielded some important gems of information. Staff, for the first time ever, used zero-based budgeting. It is a methodology for which I advocated for years. It’s about time.  There will be $15.5 million in expenditure reductions and revenue enhancements. Most of the reductions are of the smoke and mirror variety and reflect internal movement of monies. The only exception is that all departments will make cuts totaling $4.75 million. The lion’s share of those departmental cuts is the result of eliminating unfilled, vacant positions. This is a strategy that has been used before reluctantly.

When council got to departmental budget cuts Councilmembers Martinez and Knaack again asked the rest of council to return a portion of their council budgets to the General Fund as a signal that they were willing to absorb some of the same pain other departments were enduring. Vice Mayor Knaack again expressed her concern and displeasure about Councilmembers Alvarez’ and Hugh’s practice of giving the lion’s share of their council budgets to non-profits. Once again, Alvarez dug in her tiny toes and said she would give up nothing.

The big budget take away is this: Glendale residents will experience a 2% increase in their property tax rates and the temporary sales tax increase will now become permanent. For one reason only. As Tom Duensing, Executive Director of Finance said, “The level of contractual obligations (Jobing.com Arena and Camelback Ranch Ballpark) is unique to Glendale.” If not for these two major debt burdens, “Glendale’s financial picture would look very different.” He went on to say according to the major rating agencies a city’s debt burden should be under 10% and most are in the 8% range. Glendale’s debt service burden is in the 25% to 28% range. Translating it means that the reason your taxes are increasing or in the case of the temporary sales tax increase remaining, is because of the debt created by Jobing.com Arena and Camelback Ranch Ballpark. That has been the elephant in the room that no one wanted to acknowledge. Glendale staff finally has done so. When will your councilmembers finally admit that these two city-owned properties are the reason?

How did the council fall on this issue? Councilmembers Martinez, Knaack, Chavira and Sherwood (a majority) gave approval and direction to remove the sunset provision from the temporary sales tax increase thereby making it permanent and to increase Glendale’s portion of your property taxes by 2%. Councilmembers Alvarez and Hugh wanted the sales tax issue to go before Glendale voters and silently gave approval to the property tax increase. Mayor Weiers wanted an additional week to confer with major stakeholders in Glendale. He didn’t get it but we can presume that he supports the majority council action taken. The next budget workshops are scheduled for April 8 and April 10, 2014.

One perplexing comment made by Mr. Duensing was that WITHOUT the temporary sales tax increase the ending fund balance is ONLY a positive 10% in 2017. If this is correct, One would think a positive fund balance of 10% seems to negate the need to make the temporary sales tax permanent.

Another issue taken up was the medical benefits plan. Retirees can expect another substantial increase to their monthly medical insurance payments while current employees will see no increase. Jim Brown, Executive Director of Human Resources (weren’t they getting rid of “Executive Director” titles??), said there would be no increase to current employees but retirees are an unfunded liability causing the increase in their premiums.

The last issue was an increase in fire staffing of 15 fire fighters as a result of a SAFER grant. As with a COPS grant there is a sliding scale and the SAFER grant will cover the first two years of fire fighter salaries. After that, the city will absorb the costs. Chief Burdick said that with the addition of 15 fire fighter positions there should be a savings of an estimated $400,000 in overtime pay. Let’s hold him to his word.

Lesson learned is that taxes are remaining or increasing because of the debt burden created by the city-owned Jobing.com Arena and Camelback Ranch Ballpark. Are they worth it to Glendale residents?

© Joyce Clark, 2014


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On the November 26, 2013 City Council meeting agenda was Item 23, an ordinance revising employee unclassified and classified positions as well as a revision of Human Resources Policies 201, 513 and 514. It was an item that council tabled and directed to be brought to a workshop — as well they should have.

As Councilmember Martinez stated there had been no review or discussion of this item prior to its appearance as an ordinance that night. City Manager Brenda Fischer took full responsibility for not bringing it to council prior to the vote. She should have. This ordinance, if approved, will be a blatant and naked accrual of more power to the City Manager and a diminishment of employee rights. Instead of former City Manager Ed Beasley’s “iron fist” we now have current City Manager Brenda Fischer’s “velvet glove.”

If I were a city employee I would be concerned. Currently the “at-will” employees are:

  •  City Manager                        1
  •  City Clerk                             1
  •  City Attorney                        1
  •  City Judge                            1
  •  Assistant City Judges             5 estimated

Under the proposal add:

  • Assistant and Deputy City Manager level positions
  • All department Director/Assistant Department Director level positions
  • All employees, exempt and non-exempt, assigned to positions in the legal department (includes City Attorney’s office and Prosecutor’s office);                            
  •  assigned to positions in the City Clerk’s office;                                        
  •  assigned to positions in the Mayor’s and City Council offices;
  •  and all classified employees in their introductory or probationary period of employment.

Under the current system reflected in the FY 2013 budget there are approximately 9 positions (estimate of number of assistant city judges is 5) that are unclassified and are considered as at-will. Under the proposed “velvet glove” system the number grows to approximately 120 positions. That number does not include “all classified employees in their introductory or probationary period of employment.” My math can be shaky but it appears to be a 1,000% increase planned in the number of at-will employees and that does not include probationary employees.

What are the differences between classified and unclassified employees? The major distinction is that unclassified employees have no right of appeal or right of grievance should they be fired. There does not have to be a “cause” to terminate. Consider them to be contract employees. There is no permanence or stability associated with the job. They are salaried employees who earn no overtime pay. There is no annual merit or “step” increase. Rather increases are based upon performance and productivity.

Retirement “vesting” and benefits can be different between the two systems. Unclassified employees can usually vest in retirement immediately while there is a waiting period for classified employees.

A classified job offers an individual job security and stability. Security at work has been demonstrated to improve and to enhance the individual’s performance. In the private sector companies that offer permanent jobs understand the need of promoting higher levels of job satisfaction to improve workforce performance. A classified employee will generally receive more employment benefits and bonuses like health insurance, pay raises and holiday pay.

There is no right or wrong position on these job classifications. Younger, more mobile workers seem to prefer at will employment while older persons are more comfortable with the security of job stability.

However, this new proposal raises a myriad of questions and concerns:

What about the issue of subjectivity? What if a department head has an assistant department head that does terrific work but their personalities clash? There exists the potential for abuse.

What about public safety? Do department heads and assistant department heads in police and fire become unclassified? If so the estimated number of 120 will grow substantially.

What about those employees currently in their introductory or probationary phases? Did those that already accepted employment from the city choose stability or mobility? If it was stability did they unwittingly forego another opportunity at another city assuming that once they passed their current probation they would have a stable job? In this new proposal once they finish probation after January 2, 2014 do they become at-will, unclassified? If so, over time, every employee will become unclassified. The proposed ordinance specifically states, “Legislative note: The expansion of the unclassified service to include employees hired and or promoted on or after January 2, 2014.”

The ordinance also states, “Unclassified employees are entitled to all regular benefits and leaves unless otherwise provided in the human resources policies and procedures.” How long will it be until unclassified employees see revisions to HR policies and procedures?

Then there is the description of classified service within the ordinance, “The objective of this service is to provide public and management services covered by a fair and nonpolitical system of personnel management for the City of Glendale.” Those seem to be desired outcomes in municipal government. So why the proposed change? It goes on to say, “The unclassified service is made up of employees in positions where administrative necessity dictates that the position be more responsive and accountable to city policy.” Is the unclassified system inherently more subjective and political? Yes.

The City Charter under Article III, Section 3, (3) states the City Manager has the authority to “appoint, and when deemed necessary for the good of the service, lay-off, suspend, transfer, demote or remove all department heads, officers and employees of the City subject to such merit system regulations as the Council may adopt.” However, only classified employees are subject to the merit system and even if the City Manager wished to get rid of a classified person there are protections in place that must demonstrate cause. The council may make all the adjustments it wants to the merit system but they will only apply to classified employees whose numbers in this proposed scenario seem to diminish over time.

Another sentence has been added in this section, “The City Manager delegates the Human Resources & Risk Management Executive Director as the decision making authority with regard to the entire recruitment and selection process.” It is worded carefully for it appears that the HR Director can select candidates for positions but the ultimate hiring and firing will be done by the City Manager.

Why was this proposed? I’ve been told by sources that it was adopted by the City Manager after she had to appear before the Personnel Board in the matter of the Don Bolton termination. A different source suggested Mayor Weiers’ love of all legislative practices and procedures (this model is used by the state legislature) drove this initiative. Weiers has tried to have several state legislative practices adopted but what works at the state level does not always work well at a local level.

What justification is offered by either the City Manager and/or the HR Executive Director for a major change in personnel classification? None — apparently.  In the City Council Report under Purpose and Recommended Action the proposed action is described but its purpose is not.

Why the reluctance to offer the purpose of such a major change? We are certain to hear that this proposed system offers flexibility in a changed work environment. Sounds like double-speak, doesn’t it? Make no mistake. This scheme centralizes power in the City Manager’s office. As elected officials leave so, too, will their staff under this proposed system. It can get really expensive in short order.

It was extremely prudent of council to table this proposal for future discussion at a workshop. The questions are many:

* Why is this major policy change necessary? And do not accept the answer of flexibility.

* Exactly how many employees out of the 1,000 plus will become subject to this policy?

* Will it apply to all new employees throughout the organization after January 2, 2014? From that date forward, once they have finished probation, will they be unclassified?

* How does such a policy change affect future budgets? What is the anticipated cost of moving to such a system? Add 20% to any staff estimate, if they provide one.

* Will department heads and assistant department heads in public safety become unclassified? If not, why not?

* Is the City Auditor and her department employees unclassified? If not, why not?

* Who will have the ultimate authority for hiring and firing unclassified employees?

* And most importantly — What practices will be implemented immediately and prior to a council vote to prevent any potential abuses including that created by subjectivity?


© Joyce Clark, 2013

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those 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, democracy, 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 who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to :http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. 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.


Martinez photo

Manny Martinez


Yvonne Knaack

Councilmember Martinez spent $7,117.47 in 6 months of expenditures and Vice Mayor Knaack spent $3,672.29. Both exhibited restraint in their spending with the exception of a few items. It would be appropriate to get an explanation from Councilmember Chavira on his expenditures that in 6 months that are 7 ½ times the amount of Vice Mayor Knaack.

It should be noted that Councilmember Martinez spent $4,126.97 (53% of his 6 months of expenditures) for its intended purpose — that of infrastructure improvements within his district. He, like other councilmembers, has cell phone charges of $411.13 and land line charges of $1,328.00. Otherwise his budget is clean and all of his expenditures are reflected in his infrastructure expenditures, phone charges and the state National League of Cities convention.

Vice Mayor Knaack has no phone charges and is to be highly commended for that practice. She did donate $609.62 to the Glendale Arizona Historical Society. I wonder if she was aware of the thousands of dollars this organization received from other councilmembers. She, too, attended the state National League of Cities convention, very frugally.

money 11Both of these councilmembers have repeatedly called for all councilmembers to reign in their spending and to return portions of their budgets back to the city’s General Fund. They are the only 2 councilmembers to consistently practice what they have preached. They get it. They understand that with Glendale’s financial constraints every penny and every dollar and how it is spent becomes important. Kudos to both.


cit mtg 2On the evening of April 1, 2013, the City made a public presentation of the state of its budget to the public. If you include myself and the councilmember representing our area there were a total of 5 people in attendance. That’s right. Three citizens and us. How embarrassing for the councilmember. Oh, but that’s OK. His only constituency these days is the fire fighters union.

staff multiplied jpgIn terms of city staff, it would be safe to say the citizens were outnumbered at least 3 to 1. There was at least 20-25 staff in attendance. Every director of every department was on hand to answer the flood of citizen questions (not), in addition to 2 of Glendale’s cable channel 11 TV crew filming the non-event. It almost begs the question as to why doesn’t the city ask the general public to RSVP? If a minimum number of citizens respond, the meeting is held. If only 2 or 3 respond, the meeting could be cancelled. After all if the public meeting had been cancelled, it would have only required calls to 3 people.

These staff members are salaried and not paid time and a half for extra duties such as attending this meeting.  These salaried personnel, if they so choose, can compensate themselves for the time by coming in to work a little later or taking a longer lunch break. It is an option available to them should they choose to use it. Many of them do not and put in more than a standard 40 hour work week.

Ms. Schurhammer, Executive Director of Finances, made a 15 minute presentation on the city’s budget. She concentrated on the city’s total Operating Budget by Fund and Department and the General Fund Budget by Department.  She pointed out that 34% of the city’s entire budget and 63% of the city’s General Fund budget goes to Public Safety. There was virtually a silent scream from all non-public safety staff asking how much more does Public Safety need? We’ll get to that in a minute.

Back in December, 2012, both the Fire and Police departments had their respective budgets balanced and were prepared for a vote of approval from the sitting council at that meeting. However, Vice Mayor Frate made a motion shark 2that their budgets be tabled and brought up again when a permanent City Manager was hired. The vote was 6-1 with me being the lone, dissenting vote. That action left their budget departments” doors open just a crack. Now, sensing an opportunity, they are smashing open those doors with a fire truck and tactical vehicle. They sense blood in the water and this new council (led on this issue by Councilmember Chavira, a Phoenix firefighter) is willing to give them everything and anything they want. Chavira will take care of his brothers in Glendale and we can only guess that Phoenix Councilmember Danny Valenzuela (a Glendale firefighter) will take care of his brothers in Phoenix.  Sweet, isn’t it? It has a nice, quid pro quo ring to it, doesn’t it? Note that the city does not have a permanent City Manager. Yet he will have to deal with the largesse that this council dispenses.

cit mtg 1After Ms. Schurhammer’s presentation, Ms. Julie Watters of the city’s Media and Communications Department, led the meeting by asking if there were any public comments. Mind you, a citizen could not ASK a direct question, only comment. If anyone had a question, they were directed to talk to that specific department director after the meeting. This is a tried and true practice that Glendale has practiced for years and which I have hated for just as long. For you see, if the question is a difficult or uncomfortable one, the answer is made only to the citizen seeking the answer after the meeting. After all, the city wouldn’t want all those citizens hearing that awkward answer to that difficult question. Would it? It’s a divide and conquer strategy that I believe is unfair to the citizens of our community.

cooler 3What were the water cooler musings? Several sources echoed one another. Much of it, dear reader, is old news for I have blogged about it previously. Nevertheless, here goes:

  • The Coyotes will be sold this month by the NHL.
  • The idea of 4 separate arena management contracts (you remember…hockey, entertainment, education and cleaning) still has legs and is not dead.
  • The general consensus is the Coyotes will be leaving Glendale as the city and the new team owner will not be able to come to mutually satisfactory terms on the arena lease management contract.
  • Or the other theory is that the team will stay in Glendale briefly (2-5 years) and then relocate.
  • This new council has no will to make the necessary and needed cuts over the next 4 years and likely will not sunset the temporary sales tax increase in 2017.

super bowlAll departments will struggle to come up with adequate funding to support the hosting of the 2015 Super Bowl in Glendale. Further diminishment of citizen services may be the only way to fund the costs.