January 16, 2005
For as long as Scottsdale has had the position of storm water management director, it has had no one to occupy the office.
The job’s duties, mostly improving the city’s storm water preparedness, have been covered by another employee, said Al Dreska, municipal services director.
Scottsdale created the storm water management division in 2003 and the director’s position was opened to applicants in July of that year.
Nineteen months later, it remains vacant.
Twice the city has failed to land its candidate, who would directly report to Dreska.
Scottsdale has gathered resumes through Shannon Executive Search, a Sacramento, Calif., recruiting firm that handles high-level hiring for companies and governments.
The city conducted two sets of interviews and made offers to two applicants, with an annual salary package of $100,000, Dreska said. The first candidate cited "family issues" in declining, despite the 15 vacation days offered.
When the city completed its second search, its offer was again rebuffed, Dreska said. A counter by the candidate’s employer was too rich for Scottsdale to top.
The search began again.
Dreska said Shannon Executive Search has received more than 30 applicants and this week will forward the finalists on to city officials. "We will then engage in an interview process with the goal being that the third time will be the charm," he said.
Aside from less tangible qualities such as dynamism and problem-solving skills, an ideal candidate will have a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering along with four to seven years experience, according to a brochure advertising the job.
Therein lies the problem, said Sandra Houston, chairwoman of the Arizona State University civil and environmental engineering department.
Enrollment in civil engineering programs has declined in the past decade, Houston said. That, coupled with an increase in retirements among civil engineers, has inflated demand for these trained professionals.
"I don’t think (Scottsdale is) in an unusual position there," Houston said.
Houston said her department has seen enrollment jump 25 percent in recent years, largely because this region’s population is growing rapidly.
"We certainly have no problem in placing our students," she said.
On average, it takes Scottsdale 11 weeks to fill an open position, human resources director Joyce Lira said.
The longest employee search Lira said she could remember was for the city’s traffic engineering director. Vacated in June 2002, the position was open about 20 months until Paul Porell was hired in January 2004.
"I would say that was one of the longest," Lira said.
Depending on the outcome of the storm water director interviews, that unofficial record might be broken.
With hurricane after hurricane wiping out large swaths of Florida last summer, civil engineers are in even higher demand, Houston said. The tsunami-devastated regions along the Indian Ocean also will require experienced engineers.
All the while, Scottsdale searches for someone to help keep its streets from flooding when it rains.