Chandler City Manager Donna Dreska is stepping down after 16 turbulent months marked by clashes with the police department and several City Council members.
The council will consider a resignation agreement at 7 p.m. today in Council Chambers at the Chandler Downtown Library, 22 S. Delaware St.
Under terms of the agreement, Dreska would go on a 3 1/2-month paid administrative leave Friday and be paid for her accumulated vacation hours as well. That means Dreska would leave the $148,000-a-year job on Friday but resign officially on Aug. 15.
City officials said they did not immediately know how much Dreska would be paid upon leaving. The issue could be addressed today.
Dreska didn't return phone calls seeking comment. Several council members reacted strongly.
"I'm so bothered by the fact that this council can't get along together, that we're stifling the city and the staff," Councilwoman Patti Bruno said, suggesting that may be the reason Dreska is leaving. "Donna Dreska resigning — what the heck is going on here?"
Councilman Bob Caccamo said Dreska, who has presided over numerous high-profile controversies in the past year, may be looking for something better.
"The only assumption I can make on this is it's been one heck of a year for stress as a leader, a city manager," he said. "She's faced some tough issues and she's faced them well."
In a letter to the mayor and council, Dreska wrote, "It has been my great pleasure to work for the city of Chandler for the past three and a half years (she began as an assistant city manager in 1999). . . . Through leadership and staff work, the community has a great foundation." She also wrote, "As we have discussed, I believe it is in the best interests of the organization such that it can keep moving forward for the city of Chandler to seek a new city manager."
Conflicts with the police department have dominated Dreska's tenure as city manager.
Last week, Dreska wrote to the Tempe Union High School District to apologize for comments from Chandler police suggesting the district was not cooperating with an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by a teacher. Police officials said they stood by their police report.
In March, the city manager publicly criticized Vice Mayor Lowell Huggins and Councilman Dean Anderson for pushing along a purchase for stun guns for police and bypassing normal budgeting processes. Councilwoman Donna Wallace said she has asked the Arizona Attorney General's Office to investigate Huggins and Anderson for possibly retaliating against Dreska for being firm with them and the police department.
Dreska's resignation will be "a tremendous loss," Wallace added.
However, Huggins said Dreska's criticism about the stun gun purchase was not a big deal. Their relationship is good, Huggins added. Anderson did not return calls Wednesday, but said Tuesday that Dreska has done a good job and he wouldn't comment further.
Huggins said, "She's a hard worker, probably the most hands-on manager I've ever seen in my 38 years with the city."
State Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, R-Chandler, was the city's mayor when Dreska was promoted to city manager and worked with her for six months before he left. Tibshraeny said he likes Dreska and worked well with her. But the politics apparently have become more rocky, he said.
"With the change in the council since I left in the middle of last June, the chemistry is different," Tibshraeny said. "And the chemistry with the current council isn't working."
The most recent controversies were not the only ones Dreska faced.
In October, Dreska was in the middle of a rancorous debate about whether Police Chief Bobby Joe Harris should resign. That arose after officer Dan Lovelace was charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dawn Rae Nelson at a Walgreens drive-through pharmacy. He was fired soon after that, but the event prompted criticism of the police department leadership for a growing list of troubles.
The city manager has the authority to fire the chief. But many council members, who can fire the city manager, supported Harris.
The chief submitted his resignation in January — 10 months earlier than he initially said he would. The city eventually sought an outside review of police department tactics.
The council also later authorized a review of the city manager, with some
council members saying she didn't communicate well with them or other city employees. However, other council members said the review was a way to retaliate against Dreska for being tough on the chief.
Bruno said Dreska's accomplishments are overlooked because the city has been mired in controversy with the police. Dreska kept city finances in good shape, pushed city employees and residents to be more involved, and she encouraged, "department heads to think outside the box," Bruno said.
Chandler is the only major East Valley community that is not grappling with projected budget shortfall in the coming year, due in large part to the addition of numerous tax-generating retail outlets in recent years.
Mayor Boyd Dunn and Councilman Phill Westbrooks declined comment until after the resignation is approved.