Mesa officials have approved a sweeping reorganization in the halls of city government that is aimed to make it more competitive with other major cities and to free up City Manager Chris Brady to work on economic development instead of the city’s internal problems.
The overhaul reshapes the city’s large, bulky divisions by putting them under four deputy city managers who will report directly to the city’s new assistant city manager, Debra Dollar. Dollar will be responsible for the city’s day-to-day operation and will report to Brady.
The change is meant to make city government more efficient. It enables Brady to focus on broader issues within the city. The shake-up won’t cost the budget-strapped city any more money than the former structure and will be covered by the current budget, city officials said.
The restructuring creates two new deputy city manager positions. Those high-paying, top-tier jobs will be funded largely through retirements now occurring among the city’s highest wage earners and by consolidating city functions in the reorganization, Brady said.
For instance, the former planner for Williams Gateway Airport, Wayne Balmer, retired from his job just days ago. Paul Wenbert, a deputy city manager, will retire in March. Meanwhile, Mesa’s Parks and Recreation Department will merge with Commercial Facilities, which now exist as two separate departments.
Members of the City Council, in approving the changes, largely took a hands-off approach which they individually discussed during the last several months.
“It’s (Brady’s) decision to pick his own team,” said Councilman Rex Griswold. “The picks he’s picked so far have been excellent.”
The reorganization of Mesa’s roughly 3,200 general government employees comes during a rough time for the city’s ranks. The staff turnover rate last year was about 13 percent — a loss of 457 people. That’s twice the public sector’s average. With the thin staff, the city has had interim and acting managers covering a multitude of duties.
But the turmoil has brought new faces to Mesa. Brady and police Chief George Gascón are high-profile recent hires brought in from outside of Mesa, which doesn’t have a tradition of high-profile recruitments.
The city’s reorganization makes it similar in structure to Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix, Brady said. The standardizing will make it easier to recruit and compare salaries of comparable positions, which could signal the city’s willingness to hire new blood. City officials acknowledge that salaries lag behind other areas, which has helped drive the city’s unprecedented turnover.
“We don’t make the market — we have to compete in the market,” said Claudia Walters, vice mayor. “We’re bumping into that left and right.”
Observers of city politics, however, note that the reorganization reveals some of the inefficiencies Mesa has suffered in the past. The strict lines of command deconstruct the “silos” of its large divisions.
“That has a connotation in my mind that there is some sort of containment. There might not be crossover and interplay with other departments,” said Nate Caine, a consulting engineer.
Mesa will restructure at first with an interim organizational chart, that leaves plenty of city functions near the top. Those functions will eventually be rolled underneath the purview of the four deputy city managers, who now include Bryan Raines and Jack Friedline, head of the city’s finance and development services division respectively.
Brady said the departments guided by his deputies could change every two years, to provide them with general management experience.