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Joyce Clark Unfiltered

For "the rest of the story"

Recently the Glendale Star ran an article about the “great fire truck mess.” Here’s the link: http://www.glendalestar.com/news/article_43959c72-8cf1-11e3-ace9-0019bb2963f4.html .

In one of my recent blogs, “Choices…so many choices,” we learned the proposal to be ratified by council was to buy a new fire truck for more money ($484K) than was granted ($424K) for the purchase and was pulled from the agenda. The reason for its removal was due to public comment offered by two gentlemen representing Freightliner of Arizona who reported on the RFP process and gave examples of why it was flawed. The City Manager, Brenda Fischer, always on top of every issue, indicated that she wanted to learn more and it would either come back to council as presented or a new RFP would be conducted. The Star reported that Fischer would be issuing a new RFP. How’s that for a demonstration of Fischer’s being on top of the very issues approved by the City Manager to go before council? She ought to be embarrassed.

However, the more interesting part of the story is what happened AFTER the council meeting. Fire Chief Mark Burdick confronted the two men, Freightliner’s Attorney Evans and Freightliner’s General Manager, Tim Noeding.

Burdick told Noeding that he was “shocked” that Noeding went public with his complaints about the RFP process and Burdick thought it was “unfair” because Noeding’s “side of the story” got out publicly first. Noeding shot back with perhaps Burdick needed to look at his people and their level of performance in handling the RFP process.

Good for Mr. Noeding. Too often the Glendale system is to try to waylay those who have a grievance, schmooze with them privately and then send them packing – all the while, they leave scratching their heads, wondering what had happened. It is a time-honored Glendale strategy used to prevent any negative from becoming public.

It raises some rather interesting questions, however. Who is running the Glendale Fire Department? The Fire Chief or the Fire Union? For many years it was John Holland, President of the Glendale chapter of the Fire Union. He was the power broker and if anyone wanted anything done they went to him. Alas, Holland was under investigation after having been caught with his hand in the Union cookie jar. Strangely, but not unexpectedly, nothing ever came of that investigation. It seems to have been buried deep within the bowels of the Union, never to surface again after Holland went quietly into the night. Others have assumed Holland’s mantle and may have just as much power.

In one of my many conversations had with the Fire Chief over the years, when questioned about certain policies and practices, he would shrug and refer to some concession the Union had been granted that allowed the policy or practice.

In some ways Chief Burdick’s hands are tied, especially in his efforts to control the fire department budget. It has become more and more difficult as the Union continues to stave off questions about overtime, the use of 4-man trucks or the use of big, expensive trucks answering medical calls which make up nearly 80% of the department’s Calls for Service. If those are sacred cows then Burdick must get a handle on his departmental budget and make cuts in other areas. It’s time for Burdick to manage more effectively and just like the City Manager, be knowledgeable about his employees’ decisions and actions. He and the City Manager should not be the last to know but rather the very first to know.

In other news, congratulations to Jerry McCoy on his promotion to Executive Director of Communications and Marketing. It is well earned and well deserved. But wait, you say, isn’t that Julie Frisoni’s position? Well, yes it is but apparently not any longer. It’s the signal that Fischer is about to make Frisoni permanent as Assistant City Manager, despite the fact that Frisoni does not meet Human Resources defined qualifications for the position.  But that’s just a minor roadblock. Fischer can certainly order Jim Brown, Executive Director of Human Resources, to change or modify the qualifications for the position. Hmmm…I thought the City was removing all those pesky Executive Director titles. Keep in mind, Frisoni was part of the former City Manager Ed Beasley’s “inner circle.” She knows where all the bodies are buried and may have even helped to bury some. Yet when faced with ethical issues such as former City Attorney Craig Tindall’s alleged email solicitation on a city computer for tax deductible tuition donations for his son she said nary a word. What exactly are her ethical standards? After all, she probably advised Beasley on how to handle the Alma Carmichael debacle when it became public knowledge.

I haven’t even commented on the February 4, 2013 city council budget workshop or regular workshop yet. It will just have to wait for the next edition of the blog. Burdick’s show of outrage was just too good to pass up.

© Joyce Clark, 2014

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At the January 7, 2014 council workshop session there were two items up for discussion and direction. Both were in Julie Frisoni’s, Interim Assistant City Manager, realm. One was municipal marketing and the other was restructuring the organization.

Municipal marketing is a strategy to raise money in a city by allowing corporations to pay for the right to advertise on city property, i.e., libraries, fire stations, police stations, vehicles and any other city asset deemed appropriate. It is used sparingly throughout the country and in the Valley.

Much was made of Mesa’s use of advertising inserts in its utility bills and the fact that since 2010 advertising has earned the city $250,000. What council failed to recognize is that it was not an annual $250,000 windfall but rather $80,000 a year. The cost to the city for implementing such a program will run anywhere from $40,000 to $75,000. Expect the higher cost rather than the lower. The options for payment of this new initiative were either (1) get the bidder to accept no upfront payment from the city. Rather there would be a reduction in the bidder’s first payment to the city to cover the cost; or (2) payment from salary savings. Salary savings are those revenues generated when a position remains vacant and unfilled for a period of time. The salary that would have been paid goes into a salary savings fund. That should be your first clue that there are still dollars to be cut from Glendale’s budget.

It was emphasized repeatedly that this would be a city-wide program. I wonder if Arrowhead residents are prepared to see their Foothills branch library renamed. It will be interesting to see their reaction should the library become, for example, the “Chick-A-Fill” Foothills Library!

All of the revenue earned will go into the General Fund. Will we see advertising revenue from the libraries, sanitation trucks or city buses go into the General Fund to pay for some inane project? Perhaps those assets that earn the revenue should benefit from it.

It was a positively “kumbaya” moment. Councilmembers Knaack, Chavira and Mayor Weiers falling all over themselves to thank Frisoni for the innovation and creativity used to raise money for the city during its current financial crisis. Martinez was part of the chorus as well but threw out the idea that councilmembers could use part of their council budgets to easily cover the cost. That idea met with stony silence. Councilmember Sherwood as well as some other councilmembers berated the previous council for not accepting this idea in 2004. Well, councilmember, it was a different environment at that time. Glendale was not in the financial morass it finds itself in today. In 2004 Frisoni presented very much the same scheme. The cost at that time would have been $39,000 and the no upfront cost idea was also floated. Even Councilmembers Knaack and Martinez though the idea of advertising on city property and assets was tacky. Especially opposed at the time was the former Mayor Scruggs. She turned up her nose and virtually declared the idea dead upon arrival. Councilmember Alvarez, whose mantra is “no” to everything and being true to form, refused to support this concept. She wanted more assurance that it would truly be a citywide program and that the Arrowhead area would not be able to opt out. She also was not happy that the revenue would be dumped into the General Fund to cover what she feels would be an inappropriate expense. Amid all of the congratulations council consensus was to move forward with this idea.

The second presentation on organizational review was presented by Frisoni and Andy Belknap, Regional Vice President and Cathy Standiford, Partner, of Management Partners, Inc. (MP). This initiative came strictly from City Manager Brenda Fischer who was able to hire this consultant without council approval because the cost was under the allowed $50,000 cap for a city manager expenditure.

This is yet another rearranging of the deck chairs. Former City Manager Beasley rearranged the organizational chart at least six times in a period of less than eight years. It is billed, as usual, as a means of improving efficiency and effectiveness but there was another goal not recognized or discussed by anyone. That goal was to physically consolidate the organization enough to free up some city property for sale or lease. Just another flag that indicates the financial stress the city is experiencing…raise revenue by selling corporate advertising rights and figure out ways such as this one, to sell or lease city properties.

What were the recommendations? There were some major ones:

  1. Reduce the number of departments from 14 to 10. Three current executive positions will be absorbed. Previously I said that no one leaves unless fired, retired or left the city for another job. Those expecting a reduction in the number of executive positions and subsequent salary savings will be disappointed.
  2. Centralize functions. One example is to lump capital improvement planning, engineering and project management together.
  3. Keep the two assistant city manager positions. One assistant city manager would supervise infrastructure and the other would supervise community programs. The second position appears to be tailored specifically for Frisoni, the Interim Assistant City Manager. Expect Jim Brown, Director of Human Relations, to have received direction to rewrite the qualifications for assistant city manager to accommodate Frisoni’s lack of qualifications for the position.
  4. Remove the title of Executive Director and reinstate the title of Director. With the inception of the Executive Director titles there was a commensurate increase in pay. With the removal of this title, all pay remains intact.
  5. No change to these departments: City Auditor, Police, Fire, Human Resources/Risk Management, Water Services, City Attorney and City Court. All other departments will be consolidated or moved.
  6. The City Manager will have direct control of the Office of Intergovernmental Programs (IGA), and the Office of Economic Development (ED). This is particularly interesting because the IGA will supervise the council’s and mayor’s offices.
  7. The City Manager will continue to receive direct reports from: Police, Fire, Finance and Technology, Human Resources/Risk Management, City Auditor and the two Assistant City Managers.  The two Assistant City Managers will supervise the departments that deal with city infrastructure and city programs.

One recommendation long overdue is to enhance the city’s use of technology. It is a concept for which I have advocated and welcome. Just one example is the use of GPS to maximize information about the city’s infrastructure and assets. The door was opened for council consideration of privatization of city service delivery. The suggestion was to look at sanitation, street sweeping, traffic signal maintenance, park and landscaping maintenance and custodial services. Last year council mightily resisted the idea of privatizing custodial services. Will this council embrace privatization?

Council’s reaction? The “walk around” performed by Management Partners did a great deal to staunch questions and criticism. A “walk around” is a tried and true technique to sell an idea to council on an individual basis and to quell any public negativism. After the usual chorus of thank yous Weiers, Sherwood, Knaack, Martinez and Chavira voiced their enthusiastic support. Councilmembers Hugh and Alvarez were glaringly silent. Alvarez was probably too stunned to speak.

This council should be commended for seeking new strategies to maximize the city’s revenue streams and to reduce expenses. The question is…do these two strategies achieve those goals?

© Joyce Clark, 2014

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A new year begins and council resumes its meeting schedule. January 7, 2014 will be the council’s first workshop of the new year. On the agenda are 3 items: a legislative update, consideration of municipal marketing and consideration of revamping the city’s organizational structure.

Two of the items are Julie Frisoni’s. One, municipal marketing is an idea she had floated previously in April of 2012. On its first go-round council rejected the idea but persistence pays off and it has resurfaced. It’s a simple concept. Allow corporations to buy advertising space on city properties — libraries, buildings, vehicles and assorted other assets. While it has been partially implemented by larger cities nationally its use in the Valley has been very limited. Mesa does allow advertising on its utility bills and the revenue generated pays for the printing costs of the city’s newsletters. Other uses in the Valley have been by school districts on their school buses and by independent fire departments like Daisy Mountain Fire Department on their fire trucks. I guess there are a lot of local municipalities who would prefer not to become tacky looking with corporate advertising running rampant.

The cost to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) to seek corporate advertising bids is between $40,000 and $75,000. Frisoni ends her presentation with the cryptic, “The source of funding would have to be identified if directed to move forward.” In plain English that means she doesn’t know where the money would come from. You can be sure that some department will end up forking over the money to fund this idea, if adopted. The city’s financial condition makes the idea very tempting. Ask yourself the question: Do you want to see corporate advertising throughout our city, including Arrowhead? I can hear the screams of outrage emanating from North Glendale now. This idea is akin to the billboard fiasco in Arrowhead. If they can’t accept billboards up there what makes Frisoni think they will accept corporate advertising all over the place?

The third item on the agenda is a presentation by Frisoni and Management Partners, Inc. The company was hired by City Manager Brenda Fischer at a cost of $46,800 — just $3,200 under the $50,000 limit that can be independently spent by the City Manager. Could be it that Fischer thought she might not get enough support on council to move on this strategy and so she made sure the contract came in under $50,000?

To the outsider, you and I, it looks like further consolidation of the City Manger’s power base. Management Partner, Inc.’s (MP) primary task was to review the structure of the enterprise funds (water, sewer and sanitation) executives as well as all other executive positions down to the division level and to recommend a new organizational structure that would go into effect on July 1, 2014. Hmmm…before you have visions of a reduction in expenditures for executive level employees, remember this – no employee leaves employment in Glendale unless he/she leaves voluntarily for employment elsewhere, retires or he/she has been fired. They are simply moved around and offered a position somewhere else in the organization at the same pay level.

As for the presentation itself by Frisoni and MP, I guess we will have to wait for the council workshop as no organizational restructuring strategies were publicly released with this agenda. It must be problematical or MP’s recommendations would have been make public already.

Lastly, there are two citizen groups in Cave Creek that are mounting recall petition drives to remove all six councilmembers with the exception of the mayor. Although the two groups oppose one another, their reasons for recall are eerily similar: fiscal irresponsibility, misrepresentations to the public in the last election and lack of transparency. It could have been written about some of our newly elected councilmembers in Glendale for we have seen shades of some of the same shenanigans.

 

© Joyce Clark, 2014

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The reaction to my blog on “Staying quiet in Glendale” hit a nerve with many readers. I received numerous emails from citizens and Glendale employees, past and present. Today’s a good day to round up all the speculative commentary received over the past few months and share.  There were several comments on Glendale’s current environment such as “’Being Quiet in Glendale’ hit the nail on the head!” or ”… not much had changed since Beasley has left….everyone still walking on eggshells and no trust…” Some commenters said the practice of reporting any interaction with councilmembers continues to this day. The general reaction was sympathetic to the four employees that either resigned or were terminated and that Mr. Bolton did not get a fair hearing. Many expressed the sentiment, if it is “so easy to get rid of the ‘good guys’ everyone’s in trouble.”

It also opened up much commentary on other Glendale related issues. Word is out there that we can expect Julie Frisoni’s appointment as Interim Assistant City Manager to become permanent any day.  Many of those commenting pointed out that Frisoni does not meet the minimum necessary qualifications for the position which mandate at least a Masters Degree in Business Administration or Public Administration. Another commenter shared that the very first action by the new City Manager Brenda Fischer was to have a video made about herself by…you guessed it…Julie Frisoni’s department. Several said Jamsheed Mehta is no longer an Interim Assistant City Manager and has been relegated back to his previous duties as Executive Director of Transportation. Hmmm…someone well qualified is shoved to the back of the bus.

Have you ever heard of a “cop card?” Me neither. Apparently it can be used to get out of a speeding ticket in Glendale. Rumor has it that one or two councilmembers could actually possess this “cop card.”

Did you know that City Manager Brenda Fischer’s husband was a firefighter in Henderson, Nevada (he may still hold that position)? Watch for Fischer to recommend making whole firefighters’ overtime pay – not straight time pay but overtime pay. FYI: while the Glendale Police Department has been cut by 16% over the past few years, the fire department’s cuts have come in at considerably less, only 8%.

Lastly, I was sent an article published by the Wall Street Journal on November 1, 2013 entitled Cities revival curbed by red-ink budgets by Jerry A. Dicolo and Cameron McWhirter. It said, in part, “New Orleans was one of five cities among the nation’s largest 250 that in 2012 faced a situation known in municipal finance as a ‘negative fund balance,’ according to data provided to the Wall Street Journal from Merritt Research Services, LLC. The others dealing with the issue, which means at the time the figure was reported, liabilities outweighed assets, were Allentown, PA, Providence, R.I., Glendale, AZ, and Detroit. Data on a few cities weren’t available as of August, 2013, when Merritt collected the information.Credit rating firms consider the metric a sign of a serious structural budget problem. In 2007, before the recession hit, Detroit was the only city with such an imbalance, the figures show. Glendale officials said a new sales tax is expected to generate more revenue and shore up its budget.” The Journal published a graph representing figures from August, 2013 depicting the 10 cities nationally with the lowest reserves (General Fund balance). Here they are in descending order:

  1. Detroit, Mich                     -27%  ( minus reflects negative fund balance to expenditures)
  2. Glendale, Ariz                   -21.2%
  3. Providence, R.I.                –  3.4%
  4. New Orleans, La               –   1.8%
  5. Allentown, Pa                   –  0.90%
  6. Paterson, N.J.                  +  0.07% (plus reflects positive fund balance to expenditures)
  7. New York, N.Y.                 + 0.72%
  8. New Haven, Conn             +   1.7%
  9. Bridgeport, Conn              +   2.4%
  10. Philadelphia, Pa                +   2.7%

In an article by the Arizona Republic dated October 31, 2013 entitled Challenges abound as cities climb out of financial holes by Parker Leavitt. It says, “Glendale’s general-fund reserves fell 143 percent over five years, ending fiscal 2012 with a $26.5 million negative balance, according to financial reports. Payments to the National Hockey League for Phoenix Coyotes operating losses led to significant declines in Glendale’s reserve funds in 2011 and 2012, according to a Moody’s credit report.” Obviously Glendale has significant financial problems. This council continues to spend money the city does not have.

Council has taken actions that were not budgeted in the current Fiscal Year 2013-14 budget: an external audit costing over a half million dollars; the Beacon Request for Proposal for the Arena (never used) costing over $100K; or the biggie, an additional $9M for the arena management fee (that will never be covered in total by the “enhanced revenue fees” promised by IceArizona); or the employee Christmas vacation time costing over $1M dollars. It adds up to approximately another $2M unbudgeted that will have to come from other departments…except for fire, I guess.

In upcoming budget workshops for Fiscal Year 2014-15 council must consider making substantial cuts of approximately $9M and additional cuts of about $5M a year for the next several years. The temporary sales tax increase is due to expire in 2017. There is already talk that the City Manager will recommend that the temporary sales tax increase become permanent. That is not what I, as a former councilmember, or the voters expect. The voter approved proposition mandates that it disappear in 2017 and that is what we demand. Every citizen should be on alert. If you have the time and inclination please watch when city council takes up the budget in March of 2014. I will be watching…will you?

© Joyce Clark, 2013

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As a result of an external audit that cost Glendale in excess of a half million dollars four city personnel either resigned or were terminated. Diane Goke, Budget Director and Sherry Schurhammer, Executive Director of Finance resigned. Horatio Skeete, Assistant City Manager (at the time in question he was a Deputy and Pam Kavanaugh was Assistant City Manager) and Don Bolton, Assistant Financial Officer were terminated by newly hired City Manager Brenda Fischer.

In an Arizona Republic article of October 21, 2013 entitled Appeals board: Staying quiet wasn’t option for ex-Glendale bookkeeper City Manager Brenda Fischer said, “City employees are duty bound to find a way to speak up when warranted.” Here is the link: http://www.azcentral.com/community/glendale/articles/20131018appeals-board-staying-quiet-wasnt-option-for-exglendale-bookkeeper.html . She goes on to say, “Whether it’s going around the management, whether it’s going to the (Attorney General’s) Office anonymously. We had an ethics hotline. They could have anonymously informed the media, put some public pressure on it. They could have written letters to the editor. They could have — if they were uncomfortable being asked to do something inappropriate or illegal — they could have resigned from their employment.” Uh, excuse me but rarely, if ever, are anonymous complaints considered legitimate by the media or Attorney General’s Office and followed up. Since when is a whistle blower required to resign to report wrong doing within the organization?

She must of course be referring to a world peopled by Mother Theresa. Not the real Glendale world as it existed four years ago. There is no such thing as a perfect world, not then and not now – the one that Fischer apparently believes existed at the time. Fischer acted upon her lack of knowledge and her inability to understand a Glendale ruled by City Manager Beasley. She came in as the new City Manager and felt that she needed to make a point.

It was a time of pervasive “Big Brotherism.” If any city personnel had any kind of interaction with a councilmember they were required to report it and its content. Former Councilmember Lieberman’s and my Council Assistant, Perry Baker (now deceased), was terminated because he refused to follow that City Manager directive. It was a time when the atmosphere was heavy with fear and intimidation for all personnel.

 Mr. Skeete and Mr. Bolton graciously shared their submitted correspondence to the city regarding this matter. Mr. Bolton, on page 5 of his correspondence stated, “At this time I would also like to point out that the CM (City Manager) and the executive management team controlled what items were placed on Council agenda’s (sic). The CM and executive management team also performed extensive reviews of all council reports and could slide presentations brought forward by any department. Therefore, all information regarding what to include or not include in any Council presentation had to be reviewed by the CM and executive management team before it could be presented to Council. These CM and executive management team reviews also include multiple ‘dry runs’ where presenters were asked to rehearse their verbal presentations of the content being present to a presenter’s planned ed. It was not uncommon for the CM and executive management team to request modifications verbal and/or slide presentations or the council reports.”

That comment leads to a question long unanswered. Why were these four people targeted exclusively? We know part of the answer. Beasley, Kavanaugh, Tindall, Lynch and Carmicle had left the employ of the city. But other executive management team members stayed and are still there to this day. On page 2 of Gallagher & Kennedy correspondence representing Mr. Skeete it says, “…the City Manager’s Executive Team, including the City Attorney, discussed the ERP (Early Retirement Program) on numerous occasions over the course of several months in 2008-09. Any notion that the staff supposedly tried to hide the ERP from the City Attorney is flatly incorrect.” On page 3 of Mr. Bolton’s correspondence he states, “My email on Exhibit 6 (dated December 15, 2008 used in the external audit) explicitly states…’Sherry, here is the file I received from Craig (Tindall) for the retirement incentive’.” It can be assumed that City Attorney Tindall as part of the Executive Management Team knew of the ERP and its implications. Yet he did not speak up in 2008-09. Why did he wait until 2012 when he was vying with Mr. Skeete for the job of Interim City Manager?

Who were the other members of the Executive Management Team, what did they know and when did they know it? Julie Frisoni as the City’s spokesperson was undoubtedly part of the Executive Management Team and there are emails in the external audit that reflect her knowledge of the Early Retirement Program. Her emails asking for clarification of the factual financial information to be publicly released indicate that she had knowledge of the ERP. Why did she not say anything? According to now City Manager Fischer, she had an obligation to report — to the press, the Attorney General’s Office or the employee hotline. Yeah, right. Keeping quiet got her an appointment by Fischer as an Interim Assistant City Manager, as unqualified as she may be.

The sad part of all of this is that those who appear to be primarily responsible remain unscathed and those who did their bidding at their direction took the pipe. Is life unfair? We all know that it can be but it hits home when it happens to people you know.

Staying quiet in Glendale was an employee’s only option then and guess what? It hasn’t changed. Staying quiet in Glendale is a smart employee option today unless you believe in Fairy Godmothers or Santa Claus.

© Joyce Clark, 2013

FAIR USE NOTICE
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.

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