Scottsdale City Council likely to name new city manager next week

A view of a City Hall entrance in downtown Scottsdale. (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Fittro)

A view of a City Hall entrance in downtown Scottsdale. (File photo)

The saga that has evolved into a national search for a new Scottsdale city manager could see its final chapter Thursday, Dec. 8.

Scottsdale City Council early next week are expected to interview three additional finalists — Queen Creek Town Manager John Kross; James V. Thompson, former Casa Grande city manager; and Joseph L. Lessard, former assistant city manager of Austin, Texas — both Dec. 7 and Dec. 8.

Read more about the latest candidate here

Scottsdale City Council is hosting a special public meeting Dec. 8 at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd., during which each candidate will make a brief presentation and answer questions from the council.

Once interviews are complete, they will be among five final candidates the city council will consider for the job, city officials say. The council previously interviewed Konrad Hildebrandt, Gary M. Luebbers and Jeffery M. Nichols earlier this month.

Brian K. Biesemeyer, Scottsdale water director, has been acting city manager since June 2015.

In spring 2016, the city held its initial national search which garnered 55 applications and three finalists, whom the city council declined to make an offer to, citing a consensus could not be found on one individual. After continuing the search, a new group of five finalists have been identified.

Fritz Behring

Fritz Behring

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

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.

However, Scottsdale City Council earlier this year 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, Independent archives state.

The city of Scottsdale has hired The Mercer Group with a contract for $25,000 to handle another attempt at the city manager recruitment process, records show.

Timing is everything

Scottsdale city leaders are eager to find a permanent city manager as the position has been on hiatus since the unfortunate exit of Mr. Behring.

Virginia Korte

Virginia Korte

“There were 70 or more applicants and our staff whittled them down and brought us seven finalists of which two immediately dropped out,” said Scottsdale Councilwoman Virginia Korte in a Nov. 29 phone interview. “Within about a week two more dropped out and that brought us down to three and I am looking at this, and this is deja vu all over again.”

Councilwoman Korte points out the majority of finalists for the city manager position during the course of recruitment efforts had voluntarily dropped out of the running.

“Now we are back to five, the three that we interviewed in November are still on the table and we are going to interview two more,” she said. “I believe the council will make a decision on the city manager on the Dec. 8.”

Scottsdale Vice Mayor Kathy Littlefield contends two candidates for the position have voluntarily dropped out of the running due to circumstances outside of the control of city council.

Kathy Littlefield

Kathy Littlefield

“The time lag, well for one thing, at least some of the candidates have taken other positions — if they take another positions during the process — that has kind slowed things down,” she said in a Nov. 29 phone interview.

Vice Mayor Littlefield says she is looking for characteristics that embody former City Manager Behring.

“Actually, I am looking for a lot of the characteristics that Fritz Behring had for the Scottsdale city manager,” she said.

“I want someone who has got the experience and the knowledge — and the brain frankly — to see what is going on around them. I want this person to create a atmosphere or an attitude of leadership, strength, and backbone if you will, but also partnership. He may be leading the parade but it is a parade that he is leading.”

Vice Mayor Littlefield says a key caveat for her is how this new city manager would build depth within the organization.

“He needs to be a partnership with those who work for him and those who work with him,” she pointed out.

“One of the things I would really like to see is as a manager how would they go about training people to become their successor. How do we train our managers to be better managers and provide more depth to the organization?”

From the outside looking in

The city of Scottsdale is a Charter government and one of those Charter officers has a role a bit uncommon to typical Arizona municipal practices: the city treasurer.

Councilwoman Korte says the Charter government and the duties of the city treasurer — who only answer to city council — is a form of municipal government a candidate has to buy into.

“But it is still a perception of an individual to come into a city manger position and may be wondering what is going on there,” she said of the treasurer and city manager relationship. “I think our structure that we have a city treasurer, who is a Charter officer, then reports directly to city council that could be an issue in people’s minds. I say that because I have heard that from potential candidates and recruiters.”

Former Scottsdale City Treasurer David Smith, now an elected member of city council, says he understands the question, “but the argument is a bit tired.”

David Smith

David Smith

Scottsdale is a Charter government and this is hard-wired into the workings of municipal leaders, Councilman Smith says.

“I seriously doubt that it is,” he said of the treasurer role in government making candidates reticent to fully pursue the city manager position.

“It might have been in 2009 and 2010 when we were initially creating it and there was some ambiguity about how it would work,” he explained. “They (a serious candidate) will understand that they are in a different form of government and will look to the city and see how this has worked — And, I think it has worked quite well.

There is a collaborative relationship there and this does not pose a problem.”
Vice Mayor Littlefield agrees.

“It is uncommon but not unheard of to have a treasurer as a Charter officer,” she said. “We did that because we wanted to make sure, because as council they wanted to make sure, the information from the treasurer was honest and complete. They wanted to make sure that the financial data that every decision was based on was correct.”

The finalists

The five finalists are:

• Konrad Hildebrandt, assistant city manager, city of Odessa, Texas

Mr. Hildebrandt has been assistant city manager for the city of Odessa since March 2014. He oversees administrative services including budget and finance, purchasing and procurement, risk management and employee health and wellness.

• John Kross, town manager, town of Queen Creek

Mr. Kross has been town manager for the town of Queen Creek since June 2006. He oversees the town’s 240 employees, its $184 million budget and its daily operations. He previously served as Queen Creek’s assistant town manager and community development director.

• Gary M. Luebbers, previous city manager, city of Sunnyvale, Calif.

Mr. Luebbers was city manager for the city of Sunnyvale from 2008 to 2013 where he oversaw the city’s 1,000 employees, $300 million budget and its daily operations. He previously spent eight years as city manager for the city of West Jordan, Utah.

• Jeffery M. Nichols, city treasurer/chief financial officer, city of Scottsdale

Mr. Nichols was appointed Scottsdale city treasurer in October 2013, where he oversees the accounting, budget, business services, finance and risk management departments.

• John V. Thompson, previous city manager, city of Casa Grande

Mr. Thompson was city manager in the city of Casa Grande from 2003 to 2016 where he oversaw city operations and a $175 million budget. He has 20 years’ experience as a city manager, previously holding that position in Bothell, Wash., and Bullhead City, Ariz.

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

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