Daily Archives: January 14, 2009

Viewpoint: Phoenix will rise from the ashes

[Source: Kit Stolz, Guest Contributor, Grist Magazine] — During a session called “Sustainability and Growth: How Can a City Develop Sustainably When its Identity is Built on Growth?” at the American Meteorological Society convention, a development expert named Grady Grammage colorfully dispelled some myths and revealed some little-known truths about Phoenix.  One myth: Phoenix is unsustainable because it imports water.  Virtually all cities import water, Grammage pointed out, even New York, not to mention countless other necessities for urban life, such as food, fuel, and steel.  Phoenix arguably has a more stable supply of water than numerous other cities, such as San Diego, because Phoenix imports its water from numerous sources, albeit at great distances.

In Grammage’s view, a bigger question is “habitability,” and he brought up the Urban Heat Island Effect, which he thinks, based on surveys, will drive more Phoenicians out of the state by 2020 than those who move in from other states.  Grammage reports that when he expressed this view, various public officials and “water buffaloes” — water experts — in Phoenix scoffed.  They think Phoenix could support as many as 10 million people — more than twice its current population.

But the climactic trends may have already been trumped by the economic trends.  According to a huge and thoroughly-substantiated front-page story in the Arizona Republic, Phoenix is already losing population — thousands of people — probably due to the economy.  Foreclosures are up a mind-blowing 534% from last year, while water hook-ups, trash collection, and sales tax revenues are all down sharply.  Substantial numbers of buildings have no water service, indicating abandonment, and sales tax revenues are down 8%.  Even crime has declined.

Already, the Phoenix city government has to try and close a 22% revenue gap of about $270 million, and if the state finds that the city is losing residents, it will cut its allocation of tax returns still further.  Perhaps this is why the mayor, Phil Gordon, scoffed at the reports of population decline. “The growth of Phoenix, like all cities in the Valley, has slowed significantly.  But Phoenix’s net growth is still positive, both in jobs and population,” he said.

Cognitive dissonance, anyone?  Or, is it just garden variety denial?  In any case, something is in the wind… as reflected in a sign I saw this morning in an empty storefront in downtown Phoenix.  Guess we’ll find out what kind of wind it is soon enough.

Phoenix restricts rehiring of retired city workers

[Source: Michael Ferraresi and Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Retired Phoenix city employees may no longer be rehired to perform their previous duties, according to a policy authorized by City Manager Frank Fairbanks this week.  And employees now must wait at least six months after retirement before they can begin to negotiate another role with the city.

Critics say the new regulation would have prevented top cop Jack Harris from being rehired by the city as a public-safety manager just two months after he retired as police chief in 2007.  Under the arrangement with him, Harris was expected to draw a $90,000 pension while collecting an annual salary of at least $120,000 for his current job, according to past media reports.  “Personally, if you call him police chief, I think you’re putting his pension as risk,” said Mark Spencer, president of Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.  Police administrators defended Harris, saying he was rehired into a different role with expanded emergency-management responsibilities critical to keeping Phoenix residents safe…

Several years ago, as the Valley’s economy was charging ahead, Phoenix had a difficult time recruiting certain types of employees, Fairbanks said.  To fill vacant positions, the city began hiring retirees as part-time employees.  “We actually took a look at the practice and decided it was the wrong thing to do,” Fairbanks said.  “The Personnel and Law departments have come up with new regulation to make sure it doesn’t occur in the future.”

The rehiring policy, known as A.R. 2.92:

  • Prohibits retirees from being rehired to perform their original job duties.
  • Requires retires to wait at least six months before they can sign a contract for a new role with the city, though there are some exceptions.
  • Requires the heads of the Personnel and Budget and Research departments to sign off on the rehiring of a retiree.
  • Limits contracts with retirees to one year.
  • Allows the city manager to grant specific exceptions to the rule “in extreme and unusual circumstances.”

[Note: To read the full article, click here.]