Councilmen: Phoenix staff often give us misleading information

March 3, 2016
Arizona Republic
Jim Waring and Sal DiCiccio

Phoenix City Councilmen: Some complain about the tough questions we ask staff. But many of the answers we get aren't true.

We have received complaints that we are too tough on staff during Phoenix City Council meetings.

Our role is to keep city staff accountable to taxpayers and to ask hard questions to ensure different views are represented and respected. Mistakes, poor communication and other issues have become too frequent. We must continue to ask questions to ensure these types of incidents do not occur again.

Too often, we have felt we were misled with the information we had been given.

It started with FAA flight paths

This pattern began with the airport debacle with the Federal Aviation Administration. We were told during a council meeting by the interim airport director that staff had minimal notice of the flight-path changes. A subsequent investigation by Kaplan, Kirsch & Rockwell LLP revealed that some airport staffers had known about the pending changes for up to two years but failed to notify council members.

Employees were disciplined in this instance, including the removal of the interim director. But that doesn't help citizens who now live with the airplane noise. Those citizens now experience a reduced quality of life due not only to the FAA's unreasonable changes and failure to adhere to its own procedures, but also because of city staff's inaction that took away any opportunity for elected officials to fight those changes before they happened.

When $70,000 in checks to the city were discovered by a citizen in a recycle bin, an investigation failed to produce a reason for the snafu. The same was true when the city neglected to pay some of our firefighters approximately $2.5 million they had earned over a period of years. It was only through happenstance that these fiascos were uncovered.

These incidences undermine the credibility of city operations. That no one was held accountable just made things worse. If our questioning seems pointed, please bear in mind the magnitude of these mistakes.

When the city sought to hire an Arizona State University professor to advise the Police Department, we asked questions about rumors of alleged academic misconduct on his part. We were repeatedly assured that the rumors had no merit. We later found out the rumors were, in fact, being investigated by ASU. We started our own investigation, which revealed even more issues than had been heretofore uncovered.

The contract with the professor was canceled, but the damage was done. Time and taxpayer money were needlessly wasted.

The latest case of misinformation

The latest issue is Roosevelt Row. Staff repeatedly insisted that citizens had been given all information about the project and that the item met every legal requirement. The council voted 6-3 (we were among the dissenters) to approve the item.

It was later revealed that the information did not meet every legal requirement and the council had to re-vote, with several members changing their votes as a result of the revelations. Employees were suspended, but that is probably small comfort for the citizens who have cause to believe the old adage "You can't fight City Hall" is true.

All of this is unacceptable. Our role is to protect the taxpayer. If our questions seem curt or combative, that is simply a function of us trying to ask all necessary questions to head off problems.

What is totally unacceptable is that many of the answers we received have been demonstrated to be false or misleading.

Jim Waring is the Phoenix city councilman for District 2 and Sal DiCiccio is the Phoenix city councilman for District 6.

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