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Scottsdale honors the outstanding work of employees throughout every level of the local municipality

photo of Scottsdale employees
Scottsdale provides an overview of awards and those who won them
Staff Reports | Digital Free Press

Capturing hard to collect IRS tax credits for using natural gas. Saving a hiker’s life. Creating solutions to short-term rental challenges. These are just some of the ways employees made Scottsdale even better in 2023.

Winners were among more than 270 nominated in several categories and selected by a committee of previous award winners, Scottsdale leaders tell the Arizona Digital Free Press.

Scottsdale provides an overview of awards and those who won them:

Assistant Police Chief Helen Gandara, at left, with Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega.

The Herbert R. Drinkwater Award recognizes an employee who makes a big impact in service to the community.

Mayor David D. Ortega selected Assistant Police Chief Helen Gandara. Chief Gandara embodies the Herbert Drinkwater Award through her passionate service in both her tenured leadership in policing and her dedicated advocacy for her community. Those efforts include:

  • She is a fierce champion for those around her and has always ensured that the city organization considers the impact of work on those served.
  • Chief Gandara is an advocate for minority communities and people of color.
  • She has held leadership positions through fellowships and committee assignments, serving as a commissioner on the Arizona Juvenile Justice Commission and as a fellow with the Youth Justice Leadership Institute.
  • Her passionate service as part of her professional roles and responsibilities is exceptional, and she consistently dedicates her time and energy in the community outside of her role in other significant ways.
  • She has been instrumental in the development of Dia de Los Muertos, highlighting the role the Hispanic community plays in Scottsdale.
  • She is an active member of her faith community and chairs the Scottsdale Hispanic Network.

Chief Gandara sees the possibility in those around her, and she mentors and encourages them to grow into that possibility.

Jacob Beard

The Bill Donaldson Award is named for the beloved city manager who served from 1965 to 1971. Mr. Donaldson was credited with transforming the culture of city government and fostering a spirit of innovation that still holds true today. City Manager Jim Thompson selected IT Director Jacob Beard as this year’s recipient.

Mr. Beard’s impact on the organization has been significant and far-reaching. His knowledge is extensive, and he has developed solutions that support various departments in the city, demonstrating his dedication and forward-thinking approach.

Colleagues describe Jacob as someone who shares his time, expertise and support to help others succeed. Mr. Beard leads efforts to assess modern solutions and customize off-the-shelf applications to meet city requirements.

His teams have developed award-winning mapping solutions and are empowering the organization with new low-code initiatives.

Mr. Beard’s profound technological expertise, dedication to team success, and innovative approach have significantly contributed to the organization’s advancement and positive work environment.

Team members: Chad Gray, Jeremy Hildebrandt, Joe Sauceda and John Spinck.

The Thanks to You award, selected by Scottsdale City Council members, recognizes an employee who received accolades or thanks from a Scottsdale resident in 2023.

This team partnered with SRP to remove 130 trees dangerously encroaching on powerlines.

Why it matters: The program helps SRP maintain electric reliability, ensures public safety, and works toward the goal of adding shade and reducing the urban heat island effect.

By the numbers: The program removed 130 trees.

The big picture: Trees more suitable for the respective areas replaced those removed. This program reduces the cost of managing vegetation, saving taxpayer money.

Elena “Sam” Samfilippo

The William P. Schrader Volunteer Impact Award recognizes and celebrates one volunteer among those who donate their time and expertise to the city. It is named after former Mayor William P. Schrader who served as a true role model of volunteer service.

This year’s winner, Elena “Sam” Samfilippo, began volunteering for the city in 2001. She was one of five Saguaro High School teachers who started the Ambassador Program of 118 strong.

She works behind the scenes with the Citizen Service team, making sure the Scottsdale Ambassador program runs smoothly by logging hours, preparing uniforms for volunteers, training and so much more. She volunteered well over 100 hours last season, as she has done for more than 20 years.

The People’s Choice Award is selected by employee vote.

Senior Recreation Leader Stacy Yoder made a positive impression on her colleagues – receiving several nominations praising her dedication to Adaptive Services.

By the numbers: Ms. Yoder revamped several programs including 10 Special Olympics sports per year, social and recreation programs six days a week, and inclusion support services for Leisure Education and Youth Development programs.

The big picture: Yoder’s ability to overcome challenges and adapt to virtual programming during the pandemic demonstrates her resourcefulness and dedication.

The following eight awards were given to employees and teams for exemplifying the characteristics of Scottsdale employee values:
Yvonne Massman

Natural Resources Supervisor Yvonne Massman — who received the distinguished service award — was heading home one hot July day and happened upon a woman sitting on the bench outside the Gateway Trail building.

She thought it was odd since it was 110 degrees. Yvonne approached and discovered the woman’s partner hadn’t returned from their hike. Yvonne had a gut reaction that things weren’t okay, and she quickly went into action by calling 911.

Her instincts were spot on. When rescuers recovered the hiker, he was in critical condition with a 106-degree temperature and severe burns from the rocks he was lying on. In addition, he was able to only recall his first name.

The hiker likely wouldn’t have survived had he been out in the deadly heat much longer.

The bottom line: Thanks to Ms. Massman’s quick thinking, and seeing and saying something, the hiker made a full recovery and has expressed his gratitude, calling rescuers “angels.”

Team winners: Gretchen Baumgardner, Jill Brumand, Sharmon Jackson, Jeffrey Robertson, Donovan Shaw, Phillip Smith and Brent Yursi.

The Insightful Innovation award recognizes those who explore and develop unique solutions to challenges.

Water Conservation’s Jill Brumand contacted Facilities after reviewing a vendor’s water audit on city buildings. She asked for their support by making suggested repairs.  The two departments worked together to research and install equipment that would monitor water use and identify mechanical failures.

Thanks to their efforts, data shows savings of 927,000 gallons of water in the first year. The data readings for January-September, shows another 6.4% drop in usage. They project the savings for the current fiscal year to be well over another one million gallons.

Why it matters: This effort is significant as it demonstrates how interdepartmental collaboration can lead to substantial water conservation, resulting in environmental sustainability and financial savings for the city.

Team winners: Gina Azima, Jacob Beard, Dave Bennett, Eric Bolles, William Brooks, Jeannine Christian, Kelly Corsette, Cindi Eberhardt, George Gollihar, Christy Hill, Jeromie O’Meara, Erin Perreault, David Pino, Whitney Pitt, Joy Racine, Marci Sanders, Luis Santaella, Rich Slavin, Brent Stockwell, Sarah Vangoethem, Holly Walter, Dale Wiebusch, Alyssa Yanez, City Prosecutor Short-term Vacation Rental Team, Code Enforcement, Tax & Licensing, Treasury Technology and Police Short-Term Rental Unit.

The Collaborative Teamwork award recognizes those who listen, communicate and work together to identify ways to serve others.

The big picture: The cross-departmental Short-Term Rental Working Group was established to explore the multifaceted issues related to short-term rentals and to identify practical solutions to address them.

The team created a comprehensive “Good Neighbor Guide” for short-term rental guests.

Their proactive approach also includes requesting owners and operators to make this guide available at their rental properties, promoting better awareness of local regulations and neighborhood etiquette.

This group’s influence extends beyond Scottsdale, with three of its proposals being adopted and now included in the League of Arizona Cities and Towns 2024 Legislative Agenda.

These proposals provide local governments with additional tools to safeguard neighborhoods from the potential negative impacts of short-term and vacation rentals. The group’s dedication to community well-being is evident in its endeavors to protect neighborhoods.

Team winners: Paul Germinaro, Kelsey Lamper and Stacy Yoder.

The Value Diversity award honors those who support our community, and include everyone with respect, dignity and compassion. Two winners were recognized in this category.

For the last 20 years, the Scottsdale Bobcats have been a point of pride throughout the community – creating awareness, advocacy and celebration for those with intellectual disabilities.

Why it matters: Serving as Scottsdale Parks & Recreation’s Special Olympics Arizona delegation, the program has a long history of promoting health and wellness – and more importantly, a sense of camaraderie and belonging – through athletic training and competition.

However, every successful program faces adversity. 

In February 2022, longtime Scottsdale Bobcats athlete Scott “Scotty” Harkness was tragically shot and killed in a random act of violence while walking home one night. The 59-year-old Scottsdale resident was a regular participant in Special Olympics and other city activities. A memorial fund was established in Harkness’s name.

As support and funding grew for the Scottsdale Bobcats, so did the positive momentum in rebuilding the city’s Special Olympics program — one of many programs scaled back during the pandemic.

Together, this team navigated unprecedented challenges to turn tragedy into triumph and spread Bobcat pride throughout the Valley.

The bottom line: The program’s resilience and growth are a testament to the power of community and sports.

Team winners: Jennifer Ayala, Sara Kubisty, Laurie Mayhew, Rebecca Ogle, Alexis Skidmore, Jessie Spalding and Julie Spencer.

The Scottsdale for All Story Time Team has been proactive in training and development, building community partnerships, and preparing engaging programs highlighting marginalized and underserved groups.

The team developed a welcoming, inclusive community story time series to promote empathy, diversity, and equity and inclusion using books as a tool.

Why it matters: Through these shared story time experiences, children and their families learn to appreciate each other’s differences from an early age, cultivating empathy and kindness. They also encourage parents and caregivers to be more informed and compassionate advocates for children and families with diverse needs.

The bottom line: This effort has had a profound impact on the larger Scottsdale community by fostering a culture of acceptance and understanding.

Jason Zummallen

The Accountable Integrity award encourages commitment to doing what is right and acting with transparency. Scottsdale honored two employees in this category.

Water/Wastewater Maintenance Technician III Jason Zummallen is a highly skilled and dedicated employee who consistently delivers high-quality work. As part of his duties, He operates and maintains the water distribution system.

Why it matters: A commitment to excellence and leadership qualities make him an invaluable asset to the organization.

The big picture: Jason’s ability to identify and resolve infrastructure issues sets him apart from others.

Robin Melhad

Fleet Management Analyst Robin Melhad successfully pursued IRS tax credits for using natural gas in city vehicles.

Why it matters: The IRS offers qualifying tax-exempt entities that buy and use alternative fuels, including natural gas, a credit of 50 cents for each gallon-equivalent used. However, the city hadn’t taken advantage of the program, partly because of the difficulty in getting a tax credit for a municipality.

By the numbers: The city collected over $165,000 net revenue for the first filing and received three more checks, bringing the net revenue to about $674,000.

The big picture: Ms. Melhad exhibited tremendous accountability in making sure Scottsdale received every eligible dollar that we had not previously taken advantage of and put processes in place to make sure we’ll receive even greater amounts in future years.

Team winners: Ziad Alani, Todd DeFilippis, Luis Garcia, Scott Horton (posthumously), Mike Larsen, George Mok, Paul Olive, Richard Russo, Terence Rynone, Michael Tinguely and Jay Willson.

Continuous Learning acknowledges those growing personally and professionally to reach their fullest potential.

This team of enterprise systems engineers focused on improving its knowledge to better the overall services and operational environment that it provides to employees.

Why it matters: A high-performance workforce is one of the city’s most valuable resources and essential to innovation and service excellence.

One of the strategies to achieve this was to engage employees through targeted training to improve core IT skills and develop an “upskill” plan. Upskilling provides employees with more advanced skills through education and training.

Multiple workgroups have the knowledge and skills to perform functions while allowing enterprise systems engineers to focus on the complex, enterprise initiatives that come with constant digital transformation within the city.

What’s next: Moving forward, the city will continue to prioritize and expand its upskilling programs, ensuring that all employees are equipped with the necessary advanced skills to navigate the evolving digital landscape within the city’s operations.

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