Surprise experiences growing pains at age 50 - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

Surprise experiences growing pains at age 50

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Posted: Monday, December 27, 2010 10:00 pm

Throughout the course of 2010, Surprise dealt with turmoil involving the exits of two prominent city leaders while also celebrating its 50th anniversary and welcoming a number of tennis superstars to one of the Valley’s biggest tournaments.

The replacement of former City Manager Randy Oliver and former Police Chief Dan Hughes will continue into 2011 as city leaders have yet to fill the two positions permanently.

Oliver’s contract was terminated in March after the city council determined he was no longer the right fit for the city. Oliver was fired by a vote of 4-3, with Vice Mayor Richard Alton and council members Sharon Wolcott, Mike Woodard and John Williams voting to terminate.

Mayor Lyn Truitt and council members Roy Villanueva and Skip Hall voted against the action.

Mark Coronado, Parks and Recreation director, took over Oliver’s post in April and has served in the position since.

Surprise Police Chief Dan Hughes resigned in August after he came under fire from his department about his purported ineffectiveness as a leader. In April, the Surprise Police Employees Association sent a letter of no confidence to Truitt and council members, listing a variety of reasons for their concerns. Hughes had served as police chief since January 2002.

Assistant Police Chief Mark Schott took over for Hughes immediately and took the reins of the department for several months before initiating a medical disability retirement process earlier this month after 17 years of service.

Schott said he has suffered from back problems for many years. He will continue as interim police chief and assist in the selection of a new police chief, which is scheduled to be completed by March.

Last month, city leaders marked the 50th anniversary of Surprise’s incorporation with a number of festive and family events. The city’s annual winter celebration, Surprise Party, was expanded this year to a four-day extravaganza to mark the milestone. Surprise incorporated in December 1960, about a decade after the area was settled as a farming community.

Surprise welcomed a number of tennis greats in October to the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex as part of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Tournament. The starpower during the four-day tournament included former champions John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang, Aaron Krickstein and Mark Philippoussis.

Many of the same players could return next year as city leaders were able to negotiate a new contract with Courier’s company, InsideOut Sports and Entertainment, for the tournament to make a fall visit to Surprise in 2011 and beyond.

In December, the city council agreed the city would have to take out an intergovernmental loan over the course of the next several years to pay back $35 million that was incorrectly appropriated to construct the year-old City Hall Complex.

Scott McCarty, the city’s chief financial officer, and an outside consulting firm spent the past several months investigating bookkeeping errors from 2000 to 2009, when former city employees moved millions of dollars from one bank account to another with little to no oversight.

Rather than pulling monies from the impact-fees fund to pay for the new City Hall, Surprise officials paid for the entire $61 million project from the capital-improvement fund. The city was allowed to use capital-improvement funds, but there are regulations about how much of those funds can be used. Because the project was considered growth-related, impact fees should also have been supplemented for total costs.

Surprise has to decide how to pay back $35 million from future impact fees, which will eventually replenish the depleted capital improvement fund.

Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or zcolick@yourwestvalley.com.

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