Monday, November 02, 2009

Scottsdale City Council Fires City Manager John Little

In a meeting that took less than 25 minutes, Mayor Jim Lane and his coterie of supporters on the Council - Lisa Borowsky, Tony Nelssen, and Bob Littlefield - voted to immediately terminate the contract of City Manager John Little.

They did so over the unanimous support for Little from all of the citizens who spoke at the meeting, and over the objections that the meeting was called on short notice and was scheduled at an odd time.

The consensus was that if there had been a little more notice (2 business days, with a weekend between them and the meeting held on the 2nd business day) and if it had been scheduled at the normal time for City Council meetings (5 p.m.), the Kiva would have been filled to capacity with interested residents, most or all there to support Little.

As it was, the Kiva was less than 1/4 full, but seemingly everyone in the audience was there to support Little.

Lane started the meeting with a brief bit, criticizing Little for not living up to a pledge to "abide by and implement" an ordinance change (the hiring of a City Treasurer), engaging in "obstructive and delaying tactics" (unspecified), "working hard to undermine this Council" (also unspecified) with city employees and residents, and for hiring an attorney.

I don't know if that last is illegal per se, but citing the fact that Little has hired legal counsel as a reason to terminate his contract smacks of retaliation and will serve to undermine the City's position when this gets to court, as it likely will.

Lane then moved to fire Little, and the motion was quickly seconded by Bob Littlefield. In his speech supporting his second of the motion, Littlefield cited a quote from Frank Fairbanks, the recently retired long-time City Manager in Phoenix, about sublimating his ideas and preferences to those of the Council. Littlefield then accused Little of "picking and choosing" which ordinances he would implement.

Then the public got to have their say.

James Duchene, a Scottsdale business owner and member of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, spoke in support of Little, citing the book "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap...And Some Don't." One of the tenets of the book is that successful organizations have great leaders and that they bring the right people "on to the bus" and that "Little is one of those great leaders."

He also observed that "a lot of people are watching what happens here" and warned of an outflow of good staff members who are now wondering when the axe will fall on them.

Dick Bowers, a highly-respected former long-time Scottsdale city manager stepped up to support Little, too. He noted that Frank Fairbanks, the model City Manager cited by Littlefield, would have fallen victim to the atmosphere in the Scottsdale City Hall much like Little. He also spoke about his "rage" at what is happening to the direction of Scottsdale, and how he sees the path of the current City government as one of "unrelenting pursuit of mediocrity."

After the public comment period was completed, Tony Nelssen, the Council member who called for today's meeting, spoke of the "toxic environment" that exists in City Hall. He tried to blame the Manross/Dolan era for that, but did so while avoiding mentioning that he and 4 other members of the current Council were part of that era and that environment.

Or that four members of the current council are doing their level bests to exacerbate his "toxic environment."

Council member Wayne Ecton spoke up in support of Little, noting that part of blame for the conflict rests on the Council side with members who are absolutely unwilling to compromise.

Members Ron McCullagh and Suzanne Klapp also supported Little in their comments.

Council member Lisa Borowsky was silent on the matter, but at the previous meeting on this matter, she advocated for the immediate firing of Little, so her vote today was no surprise.

The final tally was four voting in favor of firing Little (Lane, Nelssen, Littlefield, Borowsky) and three opposed (McCullagh, Klapp, Ecton).

By 2:55, the meeting was over, and so was Little's long career with the City of Scottsdale.

Note to potential candidates for the job (hey, it pays over $180K/year, people *will* be interested):

Invest in Chapstick futures.

Whoever gets the job of working with this Council will have to do so much puckering up to keep the job, they'll be buying the stuff by the pallet load.

Welcome to Scottsdale in the 21st Century...

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