A Fly In The Anointment

A coup at Phoenix City Hall

A Fly in the Anointment

Once upon a time, Phoenix was known as The Best Run City in the World. That was funny then, and would be even funnier now given the recent antics of Mayor Skip Rimsza, top city administrators and some council members. Except there's actually serious public business at stake, not to mention lots of taxpayer dollars.

You probably didn't hear about The Coup when it happened a couple months ago. But this municipal blood bath, replete with backbiting, infighting and double-crosses, is as good as any bedtime story. In fact, it's shaping up as a real comedy.

The Anointed One: Sheryl Sculley
The Anointed One: Sheryl Sculley

The story goes like this, according to knowledgeable sources:

Longtime City Manager Frank Fairbanks has been telling people he plans to retire once Rimsza leaves office. (Some people think Fairbanks has just been phoning it in for some time anyway.) That day is now less than two years away, when the mayor's term is up.

Until recently, it seemed likely that the city manager gig would go to Sheryl Sculley, the assistant city manager. Sculley's ascension seemed so assured that City Hall types referred to her as The Anointed One. (The Spike is not making this up just to get more capital letters in this piece.)

But the palace has been restless of late. Many people, in and out of the castle, really don't like Sheryl Sculley and the power trip she is on, aided and abetted by Rimsza. The two (Sheryl's the smart one, Skip's just the pretty face) have been directing top city projects without consulting Fairbanks, and, as it turns out, without informing city council members of important information, as New Times staff writer John W. Allman reports in this issue. (See the story on page 12.)

The city council in particular is sharply divided into those who like Sculley and those who don't. Unfortunately for Sculley, there are more in the don't-like camp. They include, according to several of The Spike's minions, Doug Lingner, Phil Gordon, Dave Seibert, Claude Mattox and Greg Stanton.

Peggy Bilsten is often on the fence. That leaves newbie council members Mike Johnson and Peggy Neely (talk about minions) aligned with Rimsza in Sculley's camp.

You do the math. The anti-Sculley crowd has clipped her wings. Sources say that Rimsza, when he heard what happened, ran from his office atop the palace, shouting: "It's a coup."

It seems that a couple months ago, Fairbanks -- insiders call him The Old Lion -- shook off the sleeping potion, although The Spike's sources say he was shaken awake by several of the anti-Sculley city council members. In December, Fairbanks decided to restructure his top assistants. Instead of an organizational chart that had Fairbanks at the top, Sculley all by her lonesome right below him, and then six deputy city managers, Fairbanks decided to create a second assistant slot, equal to Sculley. He did this by simply boosting one deputy; now there are five.

This was all sparked, The Spike hears, by a series of events that included Fairbanks' hinting at retirement, some budget skirmishes between Rimsza and the council and the promotion of Andrea Tevlin to deputy city manager. Not only is she Rimsza's former chief of staff, insiders say it was well-known Tevlin had the job even before the other seven candidates for two open deputy manager slots were ever interviewed.

So. Angry council members stormed the castle, Fairbanks restructured, and, in January, that new assistant position was given to Alton Washington, one of two guys who applied for the job.

Now, no good coup goes unrewarded. And insiders say that Rimsza has been majorly ticked off. He's since been working to undermine the staffing change and keep Sculley as the power ranger, which is, of course, just who she wants to be.

To retaliate, Rimsza has used his authority as mayor to hand out coveted chairmanships of council subcommittees. The new kids -- Johnson and Neely -- must have agreed to do the mayor and Sculley's bidding because they were given the chairs of two high-profile subcommittees.

And what a disaster that's turning out to be. Johnson was given charge of the Downtown, Sports and Tourism subcommittee, which just fumbled the whole Arizona Cardinals stadium debacle. Neely, a longtime Valley real estate agent, was named chair of the Smart Growth and Environment subcommittee.

Their loyalty to Sculley is not in question within the palace walls. And in recent days, the public got a glimpse of the marshaling of the Sculley forces.

A few weeks ago, New Times got wind that Councilman Lingner had filed a formal complaint against Sculley because he believed she withheld important information from the Downtown subcommittee regarding the stadium project. It turns out that both Johnson and Neely had written letters defending Sculley. What a coincidence.

Another coincidence. The Arizona Republic also requested the complaint letter, a day after New Times. Reporter Elvia Diaz told a city public information officer she wanted the same letter that she'd heard New Times had been asking for. Gee. Wonder who told her about the letter, which had been kept secret by Fairbanks for more than a month. Even Sculley had not seen the letter until after New Times asked for it.

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