When Maricopa County District 2 Supervisor Steve Chucri was chosen as chairman of the board in January, he identified personnel reform as one of his main focus areas. During an update to the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce Public Affairs Committee in November, he laid out several of his accomplishments in that arena and highlighted his efforts in streamlining county operations to more closely resemble business.
“We’re trying to be as nimble as the private sector,” he said. “Think of us as the board of directors of a company that you all own stock in.”
Chucri has made some significant strides in reducing expenses in several aspects of the county’s personnel department. Chief on that list was starting the process for vastly reducing the percentage of the county’s 14,000 employees under merit protection, which hovers around 90 percent.
“We’re going to cull it back to 35 percent during the next 24 months,” Chucri said. “You had to go through a 15-step process just to fire anybody. As of two Mondays ago, that is no longer the case. You can hire at will, you can fire at will.”
Chucri illustrated another of his victories in county streamlining with a story about consolidating the East Valley county workforce into the old Arizona Republic building in Mesa. The county paid $1 million for the building. “The rents we were paying far exceeded the cost of the building,” he said.
The county received an initial estimate of $3 million to prepare the building for the county workforce. Chucri said he and fellow Supervisor Denny Barney found it unacceptable that the county would spend three times the cost of the building just to make it “inhabitable” for employees.
“We said ‘don’t touch the building. If we can’t do better than that, we’ll sell it for $1.5 million and the taxpayers will make half a million dollars.’”
Ultimately, the county kept the building and ended up crafting a way to make it in habitable for a final bill of $689,000. “One decision saved Maricopa County taxpayers $2.3 million,” he said.
Another method in which the county has been empowered to function more like a private business is in its hiring practices. The county used to have to interview 50 percent plus one of all the applicants for every open job. With the sheer number of applications every government job opening receives, this created a lot of work. The supervisors recently removed this requirement.
“When I was first elected, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell was in her second week of interviews for an entry-level position,” Chucri said. “Our county assessor had to hire two people just to interview people because he had so many applications for an opening.”
Chucri has also set his sights on reforming how courts conduct their business through “Smart Justice.” One of his suggestions to save money and increase safety is video arraignments.
“The cost to move inmates from their cells to the court and back is very expensive,” he said. “(With video arraignments) they don’t have to leave their cells, there’s no risk, it’s more efficient and less costly.”
Chucri’s drive to return a better value to the taxpayers seems to know no bounds.
Right now the county is doing a study on the idle time of county vehicles to determine how much gas – and therefore money – is being wasted. The effort has drawn an unexpected result, as the county has also determined how many speeding tickets are being issued to people driving those county vehicles.
“Nothing is off the table. It’s amazing what can be done. We’ve cut spending by $89 million in our first year. We’re looking at everything we can do holistically to save taxpayer dollars,” he said.
–written by Josh Coddington, marketing and communications manager.