Followup with City Manager Mike Ortega – January 9, 2016

Compiled by Bonnie Poulos for TRRG

A TRRG Special Event with City Manager (CM) Mike Ortega was held at the Ward 6 Council Office starting at 1 PM. Approximately 30 people attended the event. Facilitator for the event was Ruth Beeker.

Mike Ortega was welcomed and invited to discuss several topics: changes in administrative structure over the past 6 months, issues with Transportation Department (DOT), and reflections on being Tucson’s City Manager. There was also time allotted for questions by audience members.

CM Ortega discussed the December 4, 2015 retreat with Mayor and Council where the Budget was the main topic of the day. He felt that since the recession in 2007, the City has been in “survival mode,” cutting employees (mostly through attrition), cutting services, decentralizing functions, and coming up with other fixes to keep the budget under control. He felt the time had come for the City to look at a macro-scale budget over a period of years to get us into a period of positive growth. Everything is on the table as a way to stay lean, but still provide services to the community.

Combining tasks and departments is one such mechanism: combining Finance and Budget into one department is planned, as is re-organizing Planning and Development Services department (PDSD) to include making the Zoning Examiner position part time and moving Nicole Ewing Gavin and Lynne Birkinbine from Office of Integrated Planning (OIP) into PDSD as director and assistant director, respectively. He also revealed that Code Enforcement will be moved into Environmental Services (ES) under the direction of Andy Quigley. Discussions are taking place about how best to fund enforcement, as ES is an enterprise venture where they need to cover expenses, usually through a fee system. The other part of the Budget is increasing revenues and determining what citizens are willing to pay for such things as road maintenance, vehicle replacements, transit, buildings and parks.

At the first special event with the City Manager, on June 20, 2015, a number of questions were raised about the department of Transportation and how it handles the public’s concerns over projects. CM Ortega discussed the difficulties with how to achieve a balance between neighborhood and regional interests. He recognized the level of frustration that neighborhoods are feeling about the pressures surrounding some projects and agreed that collaboration is about finding solutions that will work for everyone. He also recognized that in some instances there is a polarization that makes it almost impossible to come up with an equitable outcome.

On the topic of TRRG participation in assisting the CM’s office, examination of Boards, Committees and Commissions (BCCs) was raised as an important role for improving citizen participation within city government. BCCs also play a role with regard to the budget and use of limited staff resources. The city is setting up a study group, with help from TRRG, to examine the role of BCCs and make recommendations for further consideration by the Mayor and Council or a task force. The goal is to engage citizens in a productive manner.

Audience members asked Mike several questions related to loss of neighborhood services, road maintenance, ideas for generating revenues, and how to keep the best employees to do more work with no increases in pay.

While reflecting on what it is like to be City Manager of Tucson, Mike expressed the challenge of defining his role in light of the fact that he is the 6th city manager in the last 12 years and evaluating what it takes to be a good manager. He expressed praise for Plan Tucson and what it says about where we want to go in the future as a community.

There was general agreement among all participants to have the City Manager return to forums such as this one periodically to update the community on his progress and effectiveness of the changes being implemented.

The Special Event adjourned at 3 PM.