By Don Henninger
We don’t need any reminders about how valuable steady, sustainable,
sensible leadership is in our country, from the national to the local
levels. In Scottsdale, we’re fortunate to have a good leader in city
manager Jim Thompson.
I caught up with him just a few days before the city’s new mayor and three councilors were sworn into office to get his take on where the city is as 2021 unfolds with its rookie slate of leaders now on board.
The council will be holding a retreat in February to identify issues and strategies for the year ahead. That will set the direction for what they think is important and the tone on how they intend to work together to get things done.
Leading up to that retreat, here are a few notes from my conversation with Thompson and his view from the city manager’s office:
–Until the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, everything is up in the air; as he says, it’s a huge impediment that affects everything. Any economic recovery – particularly in the city’s tourism sector – will be stalled until more people are vaccinated. It doesn’t help that Arizona continues to post the highest infection rates in the country. That image discourages the desire for people to visit here and dims hopes for a meaningful tourism rebound. And that means a large segment of the city’s small businesses, many of which rely on the hospitality industry, will continue to struggle.
–Surprisingly, perhaps, the city’s financial picture is a bit brighter. The assumption was that the tourism slump would leave a huge hole in the city’s revenue stream. Not the case, he says. Led by strong car sales and high housing values, city revenues are $17 million ahead of a budget that was significantly cut back due to the virus. It also would be only $2 million behind the original budget that was created before those reductions.
–The General Plan will be one of the most important issues in the year ahead, and already is getting a lot of attention. Thompson’s hope is that the progress made by the Citizens Review Committee over the past year continues and citizens make time to weigh in with their input during the public hearing process. He offers a reminder that the plan is a visioning document not a regulatory one, which is the purpose of zoning laws.
We offer this suggestion, as well. With all the citizen input already gathered and with the public hearings to come in the months ahead as part of the review process, the city should not create another layer of bureaucracy, as it now is considering. It’s redundant, likely will add nothing to the feedback already received and yet to come. The council will vote Jan. 19 on adding a task force for more review. We hope they vote no.
–Public safety pension funding remains important as well, as the city continues to pay down on the balance needed for the police and firefighters’ pensions. The city also continues to gradually hire firefighters as nearly two-thirds of the department will be eligible for retirement in 2025, the 20th anniversary of the city taking over that service from Rural Metro.
–Leadership talent is an ongoing topic and it’s well-known that the city will need to replace three key positions: treasurer, clerk and police chief. But many of the city’s department heads also are nearing retirement age and the need to build a succession pipeline is important.
–We’ll end with a four-letter word: jobs. Creating jobs will continue to be one of the most important goals for the city in the year ahead. As he notes, Scottsdale is not a bedroom community. Job growth is the key to being a great city and sustaining its high level of services and low tax structure. It’s not about serving the existing population as much as it is serving future generations.
Here’s hoping the year ahead is one of growth and prosperity for the city’s future.
Don Henninger, executive director of SCOTT, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org