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City of Scottsdale Optimas Award Winner for Partnership

September 7, 2011

P

eople who say that government agencies can’t work quickly and effectively should look at the city of Scottsdale, Arizona, which created a 258-person fire department from scratch in 18 months.

   The city could have taken the easy way out. It was in November 2003 that City Manager Jan Dolan received the call from Rural/Metro, the company that had provided fire department services to Scottsdale, saying that it that it was no longer going to be in that business. Dolan could simply have redeployed the Rural/Metro employees as the new City of Scottsdale Fire Department.

   Instead, the city government decided that it wanted to "raise the bar" and start over again with a new department, says Neal Shearer, assistant city manager. This meant partnering with other fire departments and state and municipal governments, as well as fostering collaboration among its own divisions to make sure that the department had the best people, technology and tools.

   The City Council proved to be a valuable partner by providing the needed resources. With the approval of Scottsdale voters, the council implemented a public safety tax, which resulted in $8 million a year for the department. Knowing that she had the resources to move forward, in the first weeks of 2004 Dolan and her staff put together a transition team of 48 employees from various departments, such as human resources, information technology and legal, to devise and execute a plan.

   The group met every two weeks, then eventually every week, to discuss the status of the various tasks that had to be accomplished. Among their first priorities was to hire a fire chief who would help oversee the recruiting and training of the department. Rather than conduct a national search, Scottsdale reached for recommendations from fire chiefs in neighboring cities, other city managers and consultants.

   "That way we knew we were getting a shortlist of the best candidates," Shearer says.

   One name that kept coming up was William McDonald, the fire chief in Fremont, California. He joined the department in June 2004. The next step was to recruit employees. Since there was a pool of qualified candidates at Rural/Metro, Scottsdale limited its first wave of hiring to Rural/Metro employees who had served Scottsdale for at least a year within the past four years. Ninety percent of those applicants, or 220 employees, were hired. In the second wave, which was open to anyone, Scottsdale filled another 25 positions.

   Given the nature of the profession, the recruiting process was far-reaching. First, applicants were interviewed by a panel composed of Scottsdale city personnel and fire chiefs from neighboring cities. The hiring procedure included extensive background checks, fingerprinting and physical exams. For this, Scottsdale teamed with city police departments as well as other fire departments.

   The city also needed to create technology to support the department. It relied on the Phoenix Regional Dispatch Center, which helped the municipality install the technology to track its firefighters so that it knows where they are at all times. The center also helped hook up a radio dispatch system.

   By midnight July 1, 2005, the new Scottsdale Fire Department was up and running. Fifteen minutes later it received its first call, and responded without a hitch.

   For its ability to collaborate and work efficiently and effectively under a tight timeline, the city of Scottsdale is the winner of the 2006 Optimas Award for Partnership.
 

THE MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT of Scottsdale has 2,598 employees. It provides services to 230,000 residents and thousands of annual visitors. The city expects its population to grow to 285,000 by 2020, up from 10,000 in 1984. For the 2005-2006 fiscal year, the city expects to bring in $3.1 million in revenue.
U.S. ARMY CHAPLAIN WINFIELD SCOTT founded Scottsdale in 1888. The government was established in 1951, with 2,032 residents living on less than a square mile of land. Today, Scottsdale’s municipal government is responsible for public services ranging from maintaining public parks and recreational facilities to providing water, sewage and trash service as well as its own police force.

Workforce Management, March 13, 2006, p. 26 -- Subscribe Now!