Fountain Hills Town Manager Tim Pickering sees many parallels between his current job and the one for which he is a finalist: running the municipal government of Flagstaff.
Both places are blessed with scenic mountain views and proximity to national forest land, Pickering said Monday, and so they reap the benefits of tourism.
Both Fountain Hills and Flagstaff are neighbors to American Indian communities, and are composed of environmentally enlightened residents, he added.
“Flagstaff just happens to be a bit larger,” Pickering said, “but the same characteristics that I love about Fountain Hills are found in Flagstaff.”
Pickering and a second candidate, a Green Valley attorney with experience in municipalities, were announced as finalists last week. Beginning Wednesday, the two will undergo three days of interviews, including a residents forum.
The finalists were chosen after a round of telephone interviews with members of the Flagstaff City Council. But after Pickering and Jaime M. Fontes emerged from the field, the city’s mayor expressed grave misgivings about the search process.
Mayor Joe Donaldson complained that the city-hired consultants didn’t do a thorough job recruiting candidates. Instead, he said, the pool merely reflected who applied.
“I could have gone through the phone book and gotten a list of names, too,” Donaldson said.
In reply to the mayor’s displeasure, Pickering said only: “I appreciate every council member’s viewpoint.”
Pickering pointed to a demographic shift among people who run municipal governments. He quoted a study by the International City/County Management Association showing that in 1971 only 5 percent of the city and county managers were 51 to 60 years old; by 2002, that had grown to 43 percent. “Nationally, the pool of qualified city managers is shrinking, and more and more cities will find their recruiting efforts becoming more difficult,” he said.
Pickering has served in Fountain Hills for almost five years. The town has improved its financial situation since his arrival from a similar position in Olivette, Mo. But lately, Pickering’s management style has prompted criticism. The most recent incident came when Pickering decided to let go two part-time employees of the town’s Senior Services division, upsetting a senior community that felt it was ill-informed about looming changes.
In recent weeks, a petition was circulated asking the Town Council to fire Pickering by not renewing his contract when it lapses next year. The petition drive’s organizer, Beverly Kinsey, said she gathered 625 signatures.