Much has been written about the tenure of longtime FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, who was, at the very least, the ultimate bureaucrat. He knew how to define, expand and protect his turf and longevity in the face of ever-shifting political winds.
Former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee used to tell the tale of how he wrote a story on how then-President Lyndon Johnson was about to fire Hoover, only to have Johnson turn around the next day and appoint Hoover director-for-life. Johnson reportedly sent a personal "screw you" message (substituting something a bit stronger for "screw") to Bradlee for running the story. Johnson also famously defended his retention of Hoover by explaining that he'd rather have him "inside the tent, pissin' out, than outside the tent, pissin' in."
Just about that time, political satirist Mort Sahl tongue-in-cheekedly defended Johnson's move by saying, "It would be hard to get good people if you threatened them with job security every 45 years."
Then, Sahl added that somebody like Hoover, unelected but in a position where he can consolidate power, is all but untouchable. It was obvious to Sahl that Hoover "came to see presidents as transients, just passing through."
Which brings us to modern-day Tucson, the (sorta) living and (barely) breathing example of Entrenched Bureaucrats In Action, or In Inaction, as the case may be. Since the insane firing of City Manager Mike Hein a couple of weeks ago, some of these department heads and bureaucrats have been doing their best Mr. Burns imitations, rubbing their hands together gleefully in celebration at having once again defended (as Mel Brooks would put it) their "phony-baloney positions."
As Jim Nintzel pointed out in "Bloodbath at City Hall" (April 16), Hein had shown a rare ability to work with people across the political spectrum and had gained the trust of members of the state Legislature. At the same time, he had attempted to chip some of the rust off the encrusted city mechanism, and that just wasn't acceptable to some people.
In a situation like this, an intransigent department head and/or a huffy bureaucrat can try to work with the city manager, or he/she can take the path of least resistance by making nice with a City Council member or two. All of a sudden, one ward's potholes are being filled at a record rate. Or maybe a park gets upgraded, or graffiti gets handled. These are chits that can be cashed in at crunch time.
These aren't necessarily bad people. They're not all the stereotypical fat guy behind a desk, chompin' on a stogie and hiring his wife's cousins to do make-work. They may well be decent-enough folks who simply want to do things the way they've always done things. A transportation engineer might wince at the thought of a former anchorwoman telling him how to fix streets. That's just human nature.
The real villains here are the City Council members who can't make the tough calls and who fiddled while Rio Nuevo burned. (Last week, a couple of City Council people were still sticking to their story that firing Hein was the best bet for saving Rio Nuevo. Their new tune is that they only wanted the arena and hotel anyway, and exactly what frittered-away millions are you talking about?)
I'm still bothered by the vote that canned Hein (who is a friend of mine). I figured the worst-case scenario would have been a 3-3 deadlock, with Hein retaining his job. Steve Leal can do whatever he wants, because he's on his way out. Regina Romero can do whatever she wants, because she lives in Candyland, and she knows that if the evil Spice Drops attack, Sheriff Licorice and his Marshmallow Deputies will come to her aid. And Karin Uhlich can do whatever she wants, because ... well, I still haven't figured out why she can stumble around with complete impunity.
The one that surprised me (and many others) was "Et tu, Shirley?" Scott. She owed Hein big-time for a lot of things, making that knife she stuck in his back all the more serrated.
After I wrote that first column about the firing, a woman came up to me at a ballgame and asked, "Are you the horrible person who wrote those awful things about the (City Council members)?"
"I'm one of them," I said.
"Well that's terrible," she continued. "How do you get away with writing things like that? You probably don't even know Karin Uhlich or Regina Romero. How can you call them 'dumb'?"
I said, "Because the editor probably wouldn't have let me use 'f—in' ignorant.'"
Anyway, the council has now circled the wagons and hired Hein's former assistant, Mike Letcher, to be the new city manager. (Steve Leal voted no by phone. Apparently he thinks that an $80 million deficit isn't enough, and the city should throw good money after bad to conduct a national search to find some poor schmo who's dumb enough to work for that council.)
Letcher, who was set to retire in November but says he'll now stay on for a while, might be the nicest guy in the world, but Tucson doesn't need nice right now. It needs tough and smart and focused.
Oh, wait. It just had that.