Creekers meet permanent town manager finalists

‘It took four years to acquire $105,000’ while ‘this council is squandering it away’
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peter janowski, james palenick, himanshu patel

The three finalists for the permanent town manager position, from left, James Palenick, Peter Jankowski and Hiramshu Patel, after spending a day being interviewed at town hall, met citizens during Monday night’s council meeting.   Photos by Linda Bentley

CAVE CREEK – Although it was the last item on the agenda, Creekers got to meet the three finalists for the permanent town manager position picked by the pre-selection committee.

Peter Jankowski from Massachussetts, James Palenick from North Carolina and Himanshu Patel from Florence, Ariz. enjoyed a tour of Cave Creek provided by Johnny Ringo in addition to spending most of the day in interviews at town hall.

The three finalists then got to sit through a lengthy council meeting Monday night that began with Korina Riggin at Call to the Public.

Riggin said the Open Space Committee has been raising huge sums of money to buy the 4,000 acres of state land as open space and urged council to make the acquisition of that open space a priority.

She said when the land was appraised a few years ago it was $400 an acre but the cost is now five digits.

“Interest rates are low. Now is the time to acquire,” said Riggin, who also stated there was nothing in the budget for trail maintenance and the town has relied on volunteers to maintain trails.

She stated, “I want this to become a high priority.”

Toby Payne thanked the town and 140-150 people who helped with the 61st annual Christmas Pageant which drew attendance of 270 on Saturday and 490 on Sunday.

Janet Mohr said she attended the open space meeting and stated $105,000 in donations had been raised to help pay for open space.

She stated the town had spent $192,000 in the last six months on a variety of frivolous things and said, “It took four years to acquire $105,000” while “this council is squandering it away.”

Interim Town Manager Rodney Glassman passed out a document from Standard & Poor’s rating service. He said they did a rate review and raised the town’s credit rating from A to AA with a stable outlook.

marilyn mays, chuck goodmillerMarilyn Mays and Chuck Goodmiller (l), CPAs from Henry & Horne, LLP, which recently completed the town’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), presented their findings to council.

Mays said it was a clean opinion with no significant deficiencies, material weaknesses or incidents of non-compliance.

She said they issued their report on Nov. 21 and there were no uncorrected misstatements, no journal entries required and no disagreements with management on policies.

She said the town had approximately 156 days of cash on hand, not including water and wastewater revenue.

Glassman said there was a five-page manager’s letter of transmittal to go with the CAFR.

Finance Director Robert Weddigen outlined some of the actions his department took earlier in the year to streamline operations and eliminate potential for fraud, including reducing the number of bank accounts and signers.

As Councilman Charles Spitzer moved to approve the CAFR, he said this was the first time there were no deficiencies noted and attributed the clean audit to Weddigen.

Council voted unanimously to approve the CAFR.

Three aspiring city managers and first-year master’s students at Arizona State University presented the results of their town management audit, completed at the behest of Glassman.

They used the towns of Carefree, Wickenburg and Benson as comparisons.

They said the employees they spoke with were all fantastic and see themselves more as family and had a willingness to help others out and wear many hats.

They stated there was great institutional knowledge with an average tenure of seven years per employee and said, “They’re very experienced and know what they’re doing.”

The audit revealed a few major issues and highlighted the Planning Department’s personnel budget was much higher than the other three towns, high turnover in Public Works and Water Utility worker safety concerns.

They said starting wages were comparable to the other municipalities but at the high end. Cave Creek was at 100 percent while the other towns were at 50 percent.

However, they noted many of the issues were administrative such as employees budgeted in one department working to help out in other departments.

In their interviews with council members the students found open space was a common interest and suggested the town should define that vision as to what type of open space they want to see.

For increased transparency, they also suggested putting council meetings online so citizens can see the deliberations that go on from home without having to attend and schedule a strategic planning retreat in the spring.

During public comment, Janet Mohr stated she didn’t know what the purpose was of the report.

David Smith said the report hit the high points and some of the low points, noting the town does not have a human resource component.

Smith said he hoped the town manager selected has some human resources experience.

Everett Bell said the report revealed a lot of great information but having only square pegs in square holes and round pegs in round holes destroys team work when people are placed in restrictive categories and stated, “Beware of a management style that says we’re just going to be square pegs or round holes."

Councilman Mike Durkin said, with staff as small as the town’s, all he took from the comment was how they may want to account for personnel.

Councilman Thomas McGuire said he didn’t see how Cave Creek was comparable to Benson, Carefree and Wickenburg.

Because of how the town deals with open space he said there was a difference between numbers and efficient government.

Councilman Ernie Bunch noted Wickenburg took in $77,000 in permit fees last year while Cave Creek took in that same amount last month.

Vice Mayor Adam Trenk said he didn’t view the report as “hard and fast” data as to what they should be doing.

Mayor Vincent Francia stated there was no council action to be taken on the presentation and said, “The number one goal of council and citizens is to preserve open space.”

Francia stated council would be taking no action that evening on selecting a permanent town manager and said each candidate, taken in alphabetical order, would each be given five minutes to talk about their background and then would answer questions from council and then citizens. Public comment would then follow.

Peter Jankowski was first and said although he’s working in Massachusetts, he’s from New Hampshire and has been involved in municipal government since 1988.

Responding to Councilman Thomas McGuire, who asked what sort of experience he’s had dealing with open space, Jankowski pointed out there is very little undeveloped space in older communities in Massachusetts and they would be dealing with small areas such as parks, nothing like the 4,000 acres Cave Creek is planning to preserve.

Jankowski said he has always had an open door policy with no need to make an appointment.

When asked about a two year gap in his employment, Jankowski said he resigned from a position that was “not a good fit” and worked in his father’s business and did legal work during that time.

Jankowski stated he had not been contacted or interviewed by phone prior to arriving in Arizona and was only recently notified he was being considered as a finalist for the position.

He was asked how he felt about property taxes since 70 percent of the budget in Massachusetts is paid through property taxes. Jankowski responded, “Revenue sources are revenue sources.”

When asked why he was considering relocating to Cave Creek, Jankowski said he’s a hands on kind of guy that likes to be involved and stated the community has character and charm.

Palenick, who stated he’s really from the Midwest and is working in North Carolina on an interim basis, said he took up public administration because it was part of government that is closest to the people.

Having started his municipal career at the age of 25 as a harbor master for a waterfront condominium village, Palenick said he’s worked for six communities over the past 25 years including some in Michigan, which have a lot of public sector unions, as well as Rio Rancho, N.M.

Palenick said he loves the desert Southwest and found Cave Creek to be a very attractive community.

He too said he would employ an open-door policy.

Born in India, Patel, the youngest of the three, said he migrated to the United States when he was young and became a citizen in 1986.

Patel said he was raised in Tennessee, attended the University of Memphis and continued his education in urban planning at the University of Arizona.

After graduation, Patel said he accepted a position as a planner for the city of Little Rock, Ark.

However, because of his love of Arizona, he said he accepted a position as city manager in Florence, Ariz., where he worked for 10 years.

Currently employed as the interim deputy county manager for Pinal County, Patel said he found Cave Creek to be a “fascinating community” and joked about being on “work furlough” from the “gated community” of Florence, which is known for its prisons.

During questions from the public, Steve LaMar grilled Patel to find out if he had any sort of personal relationship with developer George Johnson, whom LaMar prosecuted while working for the Arizona Attorney General’s office and which resulted in some of the largest fines in state history.

Patel stated his relationship with Johnson, who has developed large projects such as Anthem in Florence, with plans to develop other projects in Pinal County, was strictly professional.

As LaMar continued questioning, Francia signaled to Town Attorney Fredda Bisman to stop his line of questioning.

Bisman stated the subject matter of LaMar’s questioning was not properly agendized and questions could only pertain to the applicant’s experience.

When Janet Mohr raised her hand to ask a question, Francia said, “Just ask your question. We all know what your game is.”

Mohr responded by asking if there was a list of questions citizens were allowed to ask.

Mohr then asked Patel what his connection was to the Rose Law Group, Trenk’s employer, since it showed up online as a connection on his LinkedIn network.

Patel stated he has no affiliation with Rose Law Group other than they have represented numerous clients with applications before the town of Florence.

Following questions, Johnny Ringo spoke during the public comment period to thank Payne for the Christmas Pageant and for letting him be a king in the performance.

He said he only had about an hour to show the three candidates around town and said he showed them some of the empty buildings around town and stopped at some of the businesses as well as the visitor center.

Ringo said he showed them Spur Cross and some of the trail systems and stated he wished he had more time to show them around.

johnny ringo, rodney glassmanRingo (l) then presented Glassman with a large gold colored belt buckle as a gift for his part in making Wild West Days so successful.

Mohr also spoke to say, “I have no games” and said she’s lived in the town for 20 years, was very disappointed and should be able to ask a question.

She said, although each of the candidates seemed great, “I don’t like this process for hiring. I find it very disappointing that there were no phone calls made.”

Mohr later commented that she was extremely disappointed that during a public forum where citizens were encouraged to speak and ask questions, that she appeared singled out to have her First Amendment rights stifled while non residents of the community were permitted to ask whatever they wanted.

Mohr said she contacted several other municipalities to find out what they did and learned most of them use head hunters who actually interview the candidates before deciding on finalists to bring forward.

The next council meeting will be Monday, Dec. 16, when council will make a final decision to offer one of the three candidates the permanent town manager position.

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