The Betty Janik campaign is crying foul over fellow Scottsdale City Council candidate John Little’s record as Scottsdale city manager ---- a position he filled a decade ago.
Andrea Keck, who serves as Betty Janik’s campaign treasurer, says she is voicing these issues so Scottsdale residents know the truth about Mr. Little.
Ms. Keck contends Mr. Little was terminated from the top municipal position while Mr. Little maintains he opted out of his contract due to his concerns of following orders he believed to be a violation of the Scottsdale City Charter.
Mr. Little served as Scottsdale city manager from Feb. 10-Nov. 2, 2009.
“I believe voters are entitled to complete --- not selective --- information about all candidates so that they can make a fully informed decision,” Ms. Keck said. “I find that fact that Mr. Little was fired from his job as city manager to be both quite relevant and quite concerning.”
Municipal records show Mr. Little served as downtown executive director from March 9, 1998 until he was named acting city manager on April 1, 2008. The “acting” portion of his title was removed less than a year later as he was extended a contract to manage the city.
“On Nov. 2, 2009 a divided City Council on a 4-3 vote decided to end my employment contract with the city. That action, after a lengthy debate, occurred when I was given a choice to acquiesce to a demand that would have violated the City Charter or, have my contract terminated. I chose to not comply and that effectively ended my contract,” Mr. Little told Independent Newsmedia.
City Council meeting minutes during the year illustrate displeasure with how Mr. Little handled budgetary issues and ultimately lost the trust of some members of City Council.
Minutes speak to Mr. Little allegedly “picking and choosing” which council direction to follow --- with one councilmember stating he should “heed to all direction.”
One of Mr. Little’s opponents, Ms. Janik called Mr. Little’s service as city manager “problematic.”
“His role in creating the proposal for the Retirement Incentive Package as reported in the June 2, 2009 Scottsdale City Council special meeting cost the city an estimated additional $7 million in retirement benefits. He appointed several key employees to serve on the committee to develop the plan. They handsomely benefited from the plan,” Ms. Janik explained. “This is a clear conflict of interest. Additionally, this occurred in the Great Recession when staff cuts were made that resulted in employees leaving without any payment.”
Despite the trajectory at City Hall, Mr. Little says the citizens of Scottsdale have placed their trust in him for over 25 years --- and he has created a bond with the residents built on his word.
“People can trust that I will make decisions that are in their best interests and the best interests of Scottsdale because that’s been my life’s work. Trust is earned by being trust ‘worthy’ and for over 20 years I’ve demonstrated that people can count on me to always put principles over politics and power,” he said.
In February 2009 when the council discussed hiring Mr. Little as the city manager full-time, meeting minutes show he was “committed to bring forth a balanced budget that will reduce spending, yet maintain quality services for citizens.”
Further, the minutes state Mr. Little planned to propose a streamlined organization that will focus on eliminating waste, while maximizing efficiency and effectiveness of government operations.
At that time, councilmembers also asked Mr. Little about his strategies to reduce a budget deficit, minutes show.
During the same meeting, Mr. Little stated the city had eliminated several full-time-equivalent positions from the fiscal years 2008-09 and 2009-10 budgets, and implemented an early-retirement incentive program to reduce staffing levels.
The City Council during this time was made up of: Mayor Jim Lane; Vice Mayor Ron McCullagh; Councilmembers Wayne Ecton and Tony Nelssen. Also on council at that time were Lisa Borowsky, Suzanne Klapp and Bob Littlefield --- who are all currently seeking election to the mayor’s seat in the upcoming Aug. 4 primary election.
A few months later, on June 2, 2009, the City Council scheduled an agenda item to discuss, review and consider Mr. Little’s role in creating a proposal for the retirement incentive package, his legal and financial assessment of the package.
Meeting minutes state:
“The special meeting was requested to discuss the city’s retirement incentive program after it was determined that several key employees who were on the committee responsible for developing the program also benefited from it.”
The council acknowledged its role and responsibility in approving the program, but expressed concern about lack of clear and detailed communication from Mr. Little regarding ballooning program costs.
Further, concern was expressed that the retirement program encouraged the city’s Chief Financial Officer Craig Clifford to retire during what had historically been the city’s worst financial position.
Meeting minutes show a lot of discussion ensued during the June 2, 2009 meeting, including a PowerPoint presentation on what the city manager’s role is.
At one point, Mr. Little asked to agendize a closed-door meeting with the council because “it was time for the council to either give him the authority to perform the tasks they asked him to do, or to allow him to return to his role as executive director of downtown.”
On Sept. 22, 2009, a public evaluation of Mr. Little was held --- which was tied to this appointment, as a six-month probationary period to analyze and evaluate performance was set.
Mr. Little’s accomplishments at the time included cutting $65 million from the budget, which included a $22 million reduction in payroll.
Meeting minutes show Mr. Little talked about the conflicts that have occurred between him and the council.
“He believes those differences can manifest as frustration, and, at their worse, mistrust,” the minutes state. “He apologized to the mayor and council for the part he played. He believes the problem can be corrected with clear direction and clear expectations.”
Councilmembers spoke both in support and in opposition of retaining Mr. Little as city manager.
Four residents spoke in support of retaining Mr. Little as city manager during the September meeting.
Mayor Lane stated the city manager’s “style should be more responsive and cooperative.” And, he told Mr. Little that he “must not use tactics such as lobbying the press and staff, and obstructing council majority decisions.”
The motion to extend Mr. Little’s employment with the intent to revisit the review within 90 days passed 4-3, with Mr. Lane, Mr. Littlefield and Ms. Borowsky dissenting.
Within those 90 days, the final nail was put into the coffin on Nov. 2, 2009.
Mr. Lane moved to terminate Mr. Little’s contract effective immediately.
Four residents spoke in support of Mr. Little during the November meeting as well.
Meetings show a councilmember --- it doesn’t state which one --- said the city manager “must heed all Council direction, not just pick and choose which council decisions to implement.”
Another councilmember expressed concern regarding a toxic environment at City Hall, and distrust between the council and Mr. Little.
The motion to terminate Mr. Little’s contract passed with a split vote again, 4-3, with Mr. Ecton, Ms. Klapp and Mr. McCullagh dissenting.
Mr. Little says the final issue between him and the council majority at that time was being asked to hire a city treasurer to become the city’s chief financial officer.
“I agreed to hire a treasurer but told the council they would be violating the City Charter if I acceded to their insistence that person also become the CFO,” Mr. Little said. “The City Charter was clear about that responsibility belonging to the city manager and I shared legal opinions to support my argument. It was very clearly spelled out in the law.”
Mr. Little says the council majority disagreed with him, which led to an impasse.
“...When you are city manager you can only function effectively with a strong majority of the council supporting you. Accordingly, we reached an impasse and I suggested that they end my contract in the full view of a public meeting on Nov. 2,” he explained.
Mr. Little says the council’s right to end his contract was fully within their scope of responsibilities, meanwhile the reasoning behind the majority decision to do so was laid bare for the public to see.
“...The very week my contract was terminated the City Council instructed the Charter Review Commission to meet and draft language (after the fact) that would amend the City Charter to justify their decision,” he said. “One year later, the City Council placed before voters a Charter Amendment that changed the charter to make the city treasurer the city’s chief financial officer taking important budgetary authority previously the responsibility of the city manager and transferring it to the treasurer.”
Mr. Little points to a number of examples over the years, which he believes illustrates reasons voters can trust him.
These include protecting property values and quality of life by changing the alignment of Pima Road; working with Arizona Department of Transportation to install the Valley’s first complete section of noise-reducing rubberized asphalt; and protecting south Scottsdale neighborhoods from dangerous cut-through traffic.
“I have trusted [citizens] to share their ideas and concerns and I have listened and responded with compassion and real solutions. I have a bond with the citizens of Scottsdale that was built on my word,” Mr. Little said.