Scottsdale takes first step toward finding new city manager

Fritz Behring

Fritz Behring

With a super-majority vote Tuesday, March 1 Scottsdale City Council severed employment ties with Fritz Behring, the city manager who has been on a nine-month hiatus as a result from a stroke he fell victim too during a June 2015 city council meeting.

Scottsdale City Council has met in executive session over the last several weeks to discuss Mr. Behring’s employment contract that has now been terminated while a member of council says there is pending litigation keeping city leaders tight-lipped on the dismissal.

The city of Scottsdale has hired The Mercer Group with a contract for $25,000 to handle the city manager recruitment process, according to Kelly Corsette, a spokesman for the city.

Also, Scottsdale City Council voted to provide Mr. Behring with 565 hours of additional medical leave that equates to a dollar value of $57,400 to help with medical costs before entering into long-term disability coverage last December, Mr. Corsette says.

“Due to his separation from the city, (Mr. Behring) is eligible to continue his medical coverage through COBRA,” Mr. Corsette said in a March 9 written response to e-mailed questions.

According to Mr. Behring’s 2013 employment contract, a super majority vote of the governing body — a vote of five or more — precludes the city from paying Mr. Behring’s severance, which would have equated to six months of his $205,000 base salary.

“Because of ongoing litigation of both parties I cannot make comments about the process,” said Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips in a March 9 written response to e-mailed questions. “I had an excellent working relationship with Mr. Behring. I considered him not just a city manager but a friend as well.”

Guy Phillips

Guy Phillips

Since last year Brian Biesemeyer, the city’s water resources director, has been acting city manager. Councilman Phillips says the city has already begun to search for a new city manager.

“The city has initiated a process to expedite a search for a new manager across the country,” he pointed out. “I will be looking for attributes similar to Mr Behring’s. It is important to me that a city manager be responsive to the citizens as well as staff.”

While folks at City Hall have taken on extra duties in Mr. Behring’s absence, Councilman Phillips says he is unaware of any internal candidates.

“I don’t believe at this time there are any internal candidates for city manager nor do I know anyone within the city staff who wants the job,” he said.

Mr. Phillips says Mr. Behring was a top official at the city of Scottsdale who cared for the will of the people.

“A good example is when Mr. Behring wanted to sell the arts building on Indian School and Drinkwater,” he recalled.

“The residents met with him and asked not to sell. Mr Behring respected their wishes and so we kept the building. At the same time we need a person who will not be swayed by political winds and will make decisions based on economics and sound fiscal policy.”

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane echoed many of those same sentiments Tuesday, March 8.

Mayor Jim Lane

Mayor Jim Lane

“While I can’t speak for everyone, I don’t think there is a person on council who wouldn’t have wanted Fritz to come back,” he said in a phone interview. “We have made some major accommodations and some additional offerings, but the way things were made us less determined that we could follow the contract provisions.”

The official statement from the City Council states, “City Manager Fritz Behring is unfortunately in a position where he is failing to properly carry out his duties and that there is serious doubt that he is now able to serve as city manager, that his employment with the city is hereby terminated effective immediately.”

Mayor Lane says the city will be engaged in a national search process to find a replacement with candidates hopefully announced in six months.

“We have already engaged a recruiter to set out a national campaign,” he said. “We will do the search and try to match-up the skills, aptitude and character of Fritz in a new city manager. The recruiting process will not be initiated by us but through the human resources department.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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