January 2024
The Gag Reflex
Something funny going on at City Hall

Checking my mail early in January, I found a little surprise: a white envelope addressed to me, with a bunch of stamps shouting FREEDOM and a return address — also mine. Inside were the results of three independent investigations by two law firms of the events that led to City Manager Katie Gregory suddenly walking off the job on December 20. “Geez,” I thought, “a tinytown Deep Throat!” 

5enses isn’t The Washington Post, obviously; we’re your local arts, community and good-news paper, and monthly besides, so breaking news of a leak from inside City Hall is a little above our pay grade. On diving into the reports, it became a little clearer why we hadn’t heard about them. It’s sort of funny, and sort of not.

The City ordered the investigations of the events of October 24, a Really Bad Day at the hall, when Mayor Phil Goode and Councilperson Cathey Rusing tusseled with Gregory over the firing of Airport Manager Robin Sobotta. You may read about some of this in The Daily Courier, which apparently received the same envelope I did.

I don’t feel particularly exercised to recount the sordid details, but the upshot is that Sobotta was pretty clearly a big problem, Gregory was exonerated, the Mayor and Rusing look bad — and that was apparently enough to get the reports shoveled into the Do Not Open Ever file, for a month at least.

Part of this involves the old small-town Prescott game of attending more to how things look than how they work, making reputation more important than effectiveness, and taking advantage of our reflex for being polite and not saying the bad thing out loud. But it’s just too small a town to hide this kind of thing for long.

A few days after the documents arrived I got a nice note from City Attorney Joe Young requesting their return. My publisher and I know we had no legal obligation to do so, but we complied anyway. That didn’t erase my memory of what I read, of course. The picture of the Mayor skulking around out of the office trying to privately gin up Council support for firing Gregory is particularly grubby.

But if you’re looking for an actual crime, you won’t find it here; at worst the Mayor will have to officially answer for violations of state Open Meetings law, which we know the Attorney General’s office is investigating, and he deserves the dressing-down I expect he’s about to get from Council. What strikes me as most important is what the reports show he’s done to the City bureaucracy.

The backstory is that when Gregory came on as manager in April she immediately started getting complaints from employees about Sobotta riding roughshod over them, expressing concern about reprisals from above, including the Mayor, if they pushed back. Gregory suggested firing her in May, and Goode shot her down. Sobotta felt free to go around Gregory to the Mayor when she didn’t get her way, and Goode repeatedly defended her and put her in situations she shouldn’t have been, actively undermining the manager. This culture of distrust and favoritism clearly predates Gregory’s tenure.

So everyone understands, the Mayor is not the town boss. In our system the city manager has ultimate authority over City employees, with the Mayor and Council providing oversight and policy guidance. Everyone has a lane and the system works as long as those lanes are respected. Mayor Phil has been out of his lane.

Knowing more of the facts about what happened clarify how the Mayor managed to motivate official complaints from Council members Brandon Montoya, Eric Moore, Steve Sishka and Clark Tenney, which the reports also detail, showing this brouhaha is a lot more than a he-said-she-said squabble.

Had the Mayor shared the conclusions of these reports publicly after Council reviewed them in the December 20 executive session, accepted responsibility and promised to improve, I think there’s a good chance that Gregory would still be working for us and much of the damage could have been rectified. Instead she resigned after doing her job in the public session that afternoon.

It seems clear that the major result of the Mayor’s ‘management style’ has been deteriorating employee morale and related losses of skilled employees who are hard to replace. I expect word is getting around about this in the small pool of professionals we will have to tap to replace Gregory. For taxpayers these factors amount to significant dollar losses and erosion of the effectiveness of City services that will take more money, more time, and I expect a new mayor to repair. Goode can moderate his behavior, but realistically he will not be able to rebuild trust at the hall.

We didn’t ask for this, but we have it, and we have a responsibility to our readers to address it. 

Mayor Goode, you’ve been careless with matches and now the house is on fire. If you care about this city, it’s objectively time to step down and let someone else rebuild. I hope the next person takes a lesson from your example. 

Given the unaddressed odor of petty corruption around our previous mayor, I also hope the residents of Prescott raise our expectations from whomever steps up to take on the job, and consider how our attention to surface over quality and character has contributed to the situation.

And to whomever decided the leak should include 5enses: hey, thanks for thinking of us!


Anatomy of a Local Recall: What’s Involved

Only one recall election in recent memory in Arizona has succeeded, that of Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, who introduced and advanced SB1070, a hardline immigration law that ultimately resulted in official discrimination against Latino Americans across the state. The US Supreme Court later struck down three parts of the law. Now a recall effort is going forward targeting Mayor Phil Goode.

According to the City of Prescott website, on November 27, 2023 a group filed a petition to recall Goode, remove and replace him before the end of his second two-year term, which began in January. The recall committee is led by Stan Goligoski, board president of the Prescott Unified School District. The group charges that Goode has breached the City Charter, promoted a lack of transparency, created a hostile work environment, and created divisive Council relationships.

An independent investigation of Goode’s actions found that he had not breached the City Charter. The city attorney denied in a letter posted on Goode’s website that there had ever been any sexual-harassment claim. Other claims were investigated and no further action has been taken.

The recall process involves a citizen’s initiative to force an election on the recall question. The recall group has 120 days from the date of acceptance of its application to collect 3,200 signatures — 25% of the 11,328 votes for Goode in his last election. That deadline is March 25.

The city clerk will certify the signatures and send them to the county recorder, who then has 60 days to verify and review them. Once they are returned to the clerk, the mayor would have five days to decide whether to resign. If he does, a majority of the Council would appoint his replacement. If not, the City will announce a recall election date within 15 days.

Mayor Goode’s name would appear on the ballot along with that of Stan Goligoski, who would be nominated through the recall petition, and any other candidate nominated on a petition by at least 2% of all votes cast in the last election, or 226 signatures.

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