Glendale Council E-mails Show Friction with City Manager
by Glendale Chamber of Commerce on July 27th, 2015

By: Peter Corbett ​
The Repulic


On the night of Feb. 1, fireworks lit up University of Phoenix Stadium, singer Katy Perry "flew" above the field with some stagecraft magic, and a worldwide TV audience of 114 million people watched a thrilling ending to Super Bowl XLIX.

As the host city, Glendale was proud of staging a successful Super Bowl, and on the surface, things looked bright for City Manager Brenda Fischer. The city's Super Bowl costs were lower than expected, the budget outlook and credit rating were improving, and Fischer had just been honored as a top local business leader.

Eleven days later, Fischer resigned under pressure from a newly elected City Council, with the only explanation given that she "had accomplished all of her goals at the city."

RELATED: Glendale city manager who quit will get $153K severance

PREVIOUSLY: Glendale city manager to resign after less than 2 years

Councilman Gary Sherwood said Fischer had lost the support of the council majority and made some serious political missteps.

"The new council needed to flex their muscles," said Sherwood, adding that "Brenda didn't handle it well."

The shift in Glendale's political dynamics that led to Fischer's ouster is evident in thousands of pages of City Council e-mails released in June to The Arizona Republicas part of a February public-records request. Fischer had originally requested the same documents that month, a move that angered some council members.

A review of the nine boxes of messages, written from November to February, reveals tensions among council members and Fischer.

That included power struggles over scheduling and Fischer's public dispute with a key Glendale business leader.

The realigned council includes Mayor Jerry Weiers, Vice Mayor Ian Hugh and newcomers Lauren Tolmachoff and Bart Turner. Another newcomer, Jamie Aldama, joined those four in June to terminate the city's arena-management agreement with IceArizona, the Arizona Coyotes ownership group.

Glendale on Friday unanimously approved a new, two-year deal with the Coyotes to end a six-week legal battle.

"(Ending the Coyotes deal) was being pushed by Ian, Bart, Lauren and the mayor," said Sherwood, who had been in the majority on many key votes with the previous council and was supportive of Fischer.

Sherwood and Councilman Samuel Chavira cast the two votes against killing the Coyotes deal. That vote sent shock waves far beyond Glendale.

Fischer declined to comment earlier this month on what happened in the final weeks of her 19-month tenure.

"I've moved on with my life," she said in an interview, explaining that she has a new career selling real estate and doing business consulting in Henderson, Nev.

She also declined to comment on the Coyotes agreement.

"(The agreement) started before I got there," she said.

Fischer was replaced by Dick Bowers, who is serving as acting city manager — a position he also held when the Coyotes deal was inked in July 2013.

In an e-mail to the council a week before the agreement won approval two years ago, Bowers warned that the deal could fail.

"I keep coming back to that same discomfort of Glendale having all the risk in this deal," Bowers wrote.

City finances recover
During her tenure, Fischer stabilized Glendale's rocky finances by eliminating a structural deficit and saving the city $47 million in a timely refinancing of bond debt at the start of this year.

In late January, the Phoenix Business Journal selected her as one of its outstanding women in business of 2015.

Glendale City Council members Weiers, Hugh, Sherwood and Chavira all were elected in 2012. Newcomers Tolmachoff, Turner and Aldama were sworn in Dec. 9.

Trouble started less than a week after they were sworn in with a dispute over scheduling a vote on a new vice mayor.

RELATED: Recall groups form to target Glendale council members
Tolmachoff said in a Dec. 15 e-mail to Fischer that she, Turner, Aldama and Hugh wanted a vote that week.

Fischer responded with a warning that "you may be violating the open meeting law."
A quorum of four council members is required to discuss city business in public meetings, and communications by phone or e-mail can be a violation.

"If we get an (Open Meeting Law) violation complaint to the (Arizona attorney general) on your e-mail, you can explain that to the investigator at that time," Fischer said.

Dan Barr, a First Amendment Coalition of Arizona attorney, said the e-mails do not show a violation of the law.

"They show several council people wanting to add a discussion of the vacant vice mayor position to the Dec. 18 agenda, but they do not evidence any discussion about the issue itself," Barr said.

That same week, Fischer resisted Tolmachoff's request to offer input on hiring council assistants.

"It blurs the lines of responsibility (and) I prefer for us all to remain in our appropriate lanes," Fischer wrote.

Yard House showdown
About a month later, Fischer publicly clashed with Robert Heidt, Glendale Chamber of Commerce president, at Westgate's Yard House restaurant.

Heidt wrote a two-page e-mail to council members complaining about Fischer's behavior when she ran into him as they were having separate lunch meetings at the restaurant on Jan. 13.
He said Fischer stopped at his table to chastise him for contacting council members to share complaints from a chamber member, the White Eyes Fresh Fry Bread catering company. The caterer had complained that city staff was repeatedly rejecting its requests to sell food at city festivals.

Fischer told him he "had no right to e-mail her council ... no right to say there was a cultural problem" with city staff, according to the e-mail.

"What makes this entire situation worse is that another patron got up from his table, approached Brenda at our table and said that he was trying to enjoy his lunch and that if she was going to continue to fight please take it outside," Heidt wrote.

According to Heidt, Fischer told him "she was far too busy with the Super Bowl," which was less than three weeks away, to deal with the fry-bread issue.

Councilman Sherwood said from the way it was described, "you would have thought they almost had a fistfight. ... It wasn't the right place for it, but those things happen."

Fischer faces council
Council members Hugh, Tolmachoff and Turner requested a closed-door executive session for Jan. 23 to discuss and get legal advice on the city manager's job performance, according to e-mails.

That evening, Fischer wrote an e-mail to the entire council: "Per your direction, I wanted to let you know that I already called (Heidt). We had a great conversation, and we both look forward to getting together next week."

Heidt said in an interview last week that Fischer did call to apologize and they set up a meeting after the Super Bowl. But the meeting never happened because she resigned Feb. 12.

But the meeting never happened because she resigned Feb. 12.

The chamber's relationship with Glendale is far better now since Fischer "self-destructed" and resigned as city manager, he said.

"The city staff's attitude was 'We're right and you're wrong,' and Brenda allowed that to escalate," Heidt said.

The final straw for the council appears to have been two days before Fischer resigned. Fischer made a public-records request for e-mails sent and received by Hugh, Tolmachoff and Turner on city accounts.

That set off a "firestorm," Sherwood said, adding that it was almost as if Fischer wanted out at that point.

Tolmachoff said in an interview that she was caught off guard by the request.

"I went down to her office and asked her what she was looking for," Tolmachoff said. "I was 100 percent committed to working with Brenda Fischer, but for whatever reason, she thought there was something in those e-mails."

Turner said there is always friction in a council and city-manager form of government and it takes some getting used to. "But there was nothing in any of those e-mails that is controversial," he said.

RELATED: Glendale staffer resigns over arena audit

The e-mails include messages from residents on proposals to sell the Foothills Branch Library and an anti-discrimination ordinance. Others were about free tickets for council members to attend the Fiesta Bowl, a Bob Seger show and a DirecTV concert the night before the Super Bowl that included Kanye West and Rihanna.

The e-mails include messages from residents on proposals to sell the Foothills Branch Library and an anti-discrimination ordinance. Others were about free tickets for council members to attend the Fiesta Bowl, a Bob Seger show and a DirecTV concert the night before the Super Bowl that included Kanye West and Rihanna.

Since Fischer resigned, other key staff members have left the city. They include Assistant City Manager Julie Frisoni, Communications Director Julie Watters and Thomas Adkins, an assistant to Weiers.

Glendale is now searching for its fifth city manager in just more than three years. The new hire will be dealing with the new Coyotes deal and will also face at least one and possibly as many as four recall elections from November to March.


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