Anger over city manager’s pay raise about more than money

Phoenix residents are ticked off and for good reason. $78,000 ain’t chump change, especially in this economy. But the city manager’s pay raise is about more than just money. It’s about priorities.

After all, city employees are still taking pay cuts and furlough days. City residents are still paying for an emergency food tax. And what employee, whether in the public or private sector, gets a 33 percent pay raise in a depressed economy?

Yes, Mr. Cavazos has done an outstanding job in a very difficult situation. But he didn’t do it alone. Every department and every city employee made cuts and sacrifices for the good of the city, and they all deserve our thanks.

The question isn’t whether or not Mr. Cavazos should be rewarded for his work. The question is if we want to be a city that rewards those at the top while those below continue to sacrifice.

I agree that Phoenix needs competitive salaries and should pay its employees a fair rate. I agree that Mr. Cavazos is underpaid in comparison to what other city managers across the country make. A pay raise may well be in order. But not at 33 percent.

The days of drastic cuts are not over. Staffing levels are greatly decreased and departments are being asked for even more reductions.

The police department has already lost close to 400 officers since implementing a hiring freeze three years ago. Those losses don’t take into account the numerous civilian positions – police support staff — that have been eliminated.

Why are we not hearing about this issue from the council? Do Phoenicians know that the city isn’t planning on hiring any additional officers for two to three more years, meaning we may likely lose several hundred more officers?

Instituting a 33 percent pay raise gives residents the impression that all is well in Phoenix. It is not. The city could lose almost a quarter of its police force. Do we really think we can withstand that type of loss without consequences to public safety?

It’s true that crime is down across the nation. Phoenix hit an all-time low in 2010, and calls for service have been greatly reduced in the past several years despite a Recession. But I believe the police force, especially when considering the sprawling growth of this city, cannot safely function without beginning to replace the officers who leave the force every month.

What many people don’t understand is that the city cannot simply hire several hundred officers all at once. The hiring process itself is quite lengthy, requiring physical and written tests, background checks, interviews, psyche exams, and a polygraph. It lasts several months.

The Police Academy also takes several months to complete, and officers cannot go straight from the academy to the streets without additional probationary training. In other words, once the city BEGINS the hiring process, it will take more than a year to see fully trained officers on the street. This means we could be waiting until 2017 to see new officers in Phoenix, and it will take many years after that just to replace the officers we’ve currently lost.

In my opinion, this is the real crisis in Phoenix, and it is not being addressed. We can continue to bury our heads in the sand, pretending it won’t affect us until we see an uptick in crime. We can continue to focus on rewarding those individuals at the top instead of acknowledging that we still have several painful years of fiscal instability ahead of us. This ignorance, however, is neither wise nor frugal, and we need to realign our focus before it’s too late.


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