Najafi: new Paradise Valley administration ought to foster service-oriented leadership

I, for one, am very happy to see Paradise Valley getting a new town manager.

F. Francis Najafi

As the pool of applicants narrows and the current mayor, incoming mayor, and the rest of the town council focus on who should run our local government, I wanted to provide some advice, based on a terrible experience. I am not one to complain. I am not foreign to complex development. That’s what I have done for a living. I don’t like to engage publicly like this.

But what happened to my wife and I in the past year was so egregious, I contemplated many serious options to compel change in the town I love. As I have shared with others, it truly was the worst experience with government, any government, I have ever experienced.

By way of background, we began work on our dream home several years ago just below Barry Goldwater’s old house, staring at Camelback Mountain. Our architect created something very special. But from there it became a procession of terribles with bureaucrats in Paradise Valley’s building department, led by Bob Lee.

Others involved are now gone. I am glad.

Consider we sought no variances from the town’s appropriate and tough Hillside ordinances. Consider that even though a gate existed on the home site previously, they made getting a new one arduous. Consider they engaged in such odd minutiae as to want to rearrange Palo Verde trees along our driveway.

They contorted definitions of lights and permanent fixtures to make our lives even more difficult. Unbelievably, they even tried to change our address from where it had historically been and where a mailbox with the same address had been located for years. We are not making this stuff up.

In all, I was forced to unnecessarily spend in excess of $130,000 on lawyers, consultants and additional architectural work to overcome the bureaucrats. Since writing about our ordeal earlier this year, countless fellow citizens have called and shared with me their similar experiences with town officials.

What’s going on?

We don’t have this problem with the Paradise Valley Police Department, which does an exemplary job working with and serving those it protects. And, maybe that’s the moral to this story. The new town manager should and must adopt a service-first philosophy, like the police department does.

Getting rid of those who don’t subscribe to this approach is a start. Arrogance is not flattering in any part of life, but especially when it comes to purported public service.

There is reason for optimism with our incoming Mayor, Jerry Bien-Willner, who appears to be the consummate listener. I appreciate the time he has taken with me as well as his humility, which appears to be a main reason so many of his peers respect and support him.

I also want to thank outgoing Mayor Michael Collins for his efforts too. Culture changes take time and I appreciate his time and commitment to change some if not much of it during his tenure.

For a new, more complete town culture to truly take shape, however, the shift will need to come from the daily quarterback of town staff. I hope Mayor-Elect Bien-Willner and other councilmembers will demand this of our new town manager, and ensure he or she has an ability and desire to make it happen.

After our situation, I do not want it happening to others and ultimately want our community to truly live up to its name. Not just with its physical beauty or by relaxing standards.

Paradise Valley can achieve this with a commitment to a service culture and to treat its citizens with the full respect they deserve.

Editor’s note: Mr. Najafi is a long-time Paradise Valley resident and CEO of The Pivotal Group

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