Are Mayor and Management delivering?
Back when Mayor Anthony Smith first ran for mayor in 2008, he expressed his desire to provide “leadership” and the “critical planning skills and determination” to move Maricopa “up to the next level of growth and opportunity.” How has Maricopa fared under his direction?
Leadership implies that someone is capable of working with others, directing them, and steering others to come to a fruitful result. Does Mayor Smith deserve the designation of leader?
Several of the City Council members complained about Smith’s refusal to bring them into the loop on essential information. An example: when Smith gave his “State of the City” address on February 9, 2010 and proudly announced that a Holiday Inn is to be built in Maricopa, none of the Council Members were notified of this momentous information, as they should have been, in advance of Smith’s speech. This, apparently, was not the first time that Smith kept his colleagues in the dark about information he should have shared.
Smith’s response when asked why he hadn’t told the Council about the hotel? “I forgot. I was so busy getting my speech ready that I forgot.”
Under Smith’s leadership, the City’s staff has been lacking the cohesion and morale that make an organization run smoothly. The recent dismissal of charges brought by Director of Support Services Karen Shaffer against City Manager Kevin Evans are a serious indication that things are not right in the city offices. The fact that Shaffer would consider bringing such charges, since she handles the sensitive human resources function, indicates the possibility that at least some of her allegations may have some truth to them. The fact that the charges were all dismissed may imply that there is a “fix” afoot in city government.
Smith, when he took office for the first time, praised former PRL Director Marty McDonald who had “done a good job.” McDonald is now on trial for financial transgressions that could carry possible years of jail time, if he is convicted.
Council members have expressed the feeling that they are being manipulated, since they are not being given all of the information they require to make informed decisions.
Since Council Members do not have full information for making multi-million-dollar decisions, trust is lacking.
In the local press, Council Member Julia Gusse let the public know that she had been treated in an unfair manner by City Hall. Other Council Members are free to visit City Hall and talk to employees for informational purposes, as they require. A recent retraction by Gusse, disseminated by City Hall, indicated some changes are afoot, but those changes should not have been needed. As the public’s representatives, all Council Members should have open and equal access to City staff. It should not even be a question, since they are, literally, the boss.
Gusse requested information on who was serving on the committee to choose the development firm that will plan Maricopa’s major public buildings. Ten days after requesting the information, the city staff refused to give her the details, “due (to) confidentiality of the evaluation process.”
The Communicator’s publisher, Shawn Schlegel, requested the same information and was given that list of committee members two days before Gusse was denied the information.
Another Council Member had asked Mayor Smith if he was serving on the review committee to choose the development firm. Smith told that Council Member that he was “sitting in,” but not deciding. In fact, he was part of the decision-making process.
Although it is not illegal for a sitting Council Member/Mayor to serve on such a committee, it does bring the illusion of a conflict. Ultimately, the Mayor’s choice would then have his vote when it comes to the full Council for review.
A Council Member commented that economic development information was selectively chosen as to what would be shared with them. Without being fully informed, again the Council is not able to make appropriate decisions.
How it should be done
Chandler Director of Public Works Bill Fay explained how Chandler manages the bidding process. Fay does say that Council Members and a Mayor may sit on a bidding review committee, but typically in Chandler, that doesn’t happen. Requirements for a review panel limit the panel’s size to no more than seven members with at least one “professionally registered engineer or architect.”
Fay seemed surprised that a sitting mayor would serve on a selection panel, since it gives the impression of influencing a decision that will then be brought to the full Council.
Progress – needed
In the years The Communicator has been reporting on Maricopa, there has been little change and not much progress under Mayor Smith’s tenure. Repeatedly the articles say ”things are coming,” but little has changed since he took office the first time in 2008. Maricopa has a Walmart that opened 15 months ago, but that took four years to happen and was begun before the Mayor’s time.
Maricopa’s library was opened last year, a lovely facility, but far too small even on the day it opened. The circulation numbers continue to escalate, showing that Maricopa really needs the 50,000-sq.ft. library that is being promised. But when?
Even the library’s grand opening in June 2009, which was accompanied by ceremony and the Mayor’s speech, was forgotten by him in his February, 2010 address. Amazingly, he did not mention the one bit of progress that the entire population could appreciate and enjoy.
Jobs? The same promises have been circulating for years. With the economic downturn and population hovering around 40,000, Maricopa is not nearly at the 150,000-population threshold that hospital developers require to build a hospital. Other industries do not seem to want or be able to find a place in Maricopa. We now have some potential infrastructure on the horizon, but we have very little and, certainly, nothing in move-in ready condition.
Counting chickens before they’re hatched?
That same stagnating population is the hope that the Maricopa financial planners cling to, with the increased census numbers purportedly due to bring us more Federal revenues. The numbers that can result in more Federal funds for Maricopa won’t be available until next spring. Counting on money before it is available would definitely be considered foolhardy for families; it is no less foolhardy for a city to plan its future that way.
The $2.6 million deficit Maricopa budgeted this year required tapping into the rainy day fund. Is that the best way for Maricopa to meet its obligations?
Salaries are more than competitive with the public sector, especially with the 100% paid health plans City employees receive. Tracking salaries for the last three years, the City’s employees are “paid very well.” Some employees have been hired with “little experience” and many receive high five-figure incomes or above.
In the police department, the 3:1 ratio of officers to management is disproportionately high with more people sitting at desks than is truly needed. We need officers out on the streets, responding to calls and protecting our neighborhoods. Vandalism is high, with HOAs and homes suffering from destruction and theft of property. For comparison, an article about Fresno’s officer-to-manager ratio indicated a 22:1 ratio – and said that there were too many managers!
Business as usual is no leadership. If this were another country, we could have a “no confidence” vote. Instead, we would need a costly recall campaign to change our leadership -- or he could resign. Mayor Smith thought he had a mandate with almost 60% of the vote in this spring’s election. With two last-minute candidates with no real experience challenging him, he did not have a challenge.
Meanwhile, Mayor Smith has taken a number of trips to Washington, DC with little results. Our elected national representatives, except for Congressmen Grijalva and Pastor, don’t particularly seem to care about Maricopa’s needs and have even refused to listen to requests for funding for our “grade separation” (overpass) over SR 347. Mayor Smith wields his credit card -- the only elected official to have one -- and hobnobs in DC, even though Maricopa pays a consultant to lobby on Maricopa’s behalf.
So, does Maricopa have leadership? You be the judge – and jury. We need some cohesive, progressive efforts and a government that harkens back to what Lincoln said 150 years ago, “that government of the people, by the people, and for the people” shall actually exist and serve the citizens of Maricopa who pay for it to succeed. We’d like to see some tangible results.
images.copanews.com/userfiles/file/SCAN5327_000.pdf - City of Maricopa Salaries 2008
images.copanews.com/userfiles/file/SCAN5324_000.pdf - City of Maricopa Salaries 2009
images.copanews.com/userfiles/file/SCAN5325_000.pdf - City of Maricopa Salaries 2010
images.copanews.com/userfiles/file/SCAN5329_000.pdf - Committee Members, PIR, Gusse