The City Council's decision to fire Mike Hein earned Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich a brief primary challenge: Bennett Bernal, who was known for providing some of the best constituent service in the city under the previous Ward 3 councilwoman, Republican Kathleen Dunbar, pulled papers to launch a campaign last week.
But within days, Bernal saw the handwriting on the wall: He wasn't going to find enough support to take out Uhlich, so he abandoned his campaign.
However, the removal of the city manager appears to have pushed Republican Ben Buehler-Garcia off the fence and into the race. The political rookie formally filed as a candidate on Friday.
While Buehler-Garcia might cause Uhlich some headaches, it will take a minor miracle for a Republican to knock out a Democrat in this town at this point, given the voter-registration advantage.
That said, the Democrats who are running this town couldn't have given Republicans a better platform on which to campaign.
Rumors are swirling that the underlying tensions between council members Nina Trasoff and Karin Uhlich—exemplified by the fact that Trasoff was furious about Uhlich's decision to fire Mike Hein last week—stem from the fact that both women harbor ambitions about becoming mayor in two years, when Republican Bob Walkup's third term comes to an end.
(We wouldn't be surprised to see Ward 4 Councilwoman Shirley Scott show some interest in that contest as well. And we're not counting out Ward 2 Councilman Rodney Glassman, although we hear he might have his eye on the larger prize of Arizona secretary of state.)
On Arizona Illustrated last week, Uhlich said she had no plans to run for mayor in two years and is concentrating on winning re-election in November. But she also declined to pledge to serve her full four years if re-elected.
Uhlich says she believes in a simple, nonpolitical mantra: "Do good work; work hard; stay centered on the public's interest; and the politics unfold. I don't know what doors will open to me in the future, if any. I think a lot of people in public office get pulled off-track by looking toward whatever ambition might lie ahead. And so I don't do that."
During the TV interview, Uhlich also said she was open to increasing the city's environmental-services fee, which was derided by Democrats as a "garbage tax" when Uhlich and Trasoff were running for office four years ago.
Uhlich, who had supported a trash fee when she was on the city's budget committee in the 1990s, was more careful about her rhetoric than Trasoff during the campaign. Rather than calling for a repeal of the fee, she criticized the implementation of it. She also declined to take any kind of position on what should be done about it, saying only that the council needed "to revisit the whole thing and put everything back on the table."
After they were elected, Uhlich and Trasoff made an effort to persuade their colleagues to consider reducing the fee, but the once the incumbent Democrats who had opposed the "garbage tax" actually had the power to do something about it, they discovered they liked spending all that money. Surprise, surprise.
Now Uhlich says the fee, like many others in the city, isn't too high after all. Instead, it's too low and should be indexed to inflation and subject to regular increases. Now that's what we call revisiting.
Uhlich says indexing fees to inflation makes sense, because too often, politicians don't regularly increase fees.
"Often, governing bodies are afraid of any revenue discussion," Uhlich said. "We avoid it, avoid it, avoid it, avoid it, and then every 10 years, there's a 25 to 50 percent jump."
We wonder why politicians are afraid of talking about raising revenues, which is the latest code for hiking taxes. It could be because when they do, challengers come along and relentlessly pound them for doing so. Good thing Uhlich is above that kind of thing.
Listening to Uhlich reminded us of how the City Council avoided any talk of raising bus fares until last year, when the Transportation Department suggested a 25-cent hike in bus fares. Who led the opposition to that increase? Oh, yeah—Karin Uhlich.
Instead, the City Council threatened to fire Hein and created a new mass-transit committee to consider whether the increase was justified. And even though that committee came back with a recommendation to hike the fee, the council has taken no action.
So let's see if we understand how this is supposed to work: First, support a fee. Then oppose its implementation, because the increase is too high. Then once elected, keep it at its current level until costs increase, and then call for annual future increases.
We can't imagine why Mike Hein would run into trouble working with these people.
Our new city manager, Mike Letcher, is set to retire in November, so council members need to find a replacement.
Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, hoping to regain some political traction in her rapidly shifting world, sent out a memo this week asking that council members figure out what they're doing at the upcoming City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 21. She asked that council members decide whether to do a national search or tap local talent.
We're hearing a few local names being dropped behind the scenes, including Albert Elias, who has worked for the city's transportation and planning departments. With the Planning Department being merged with Development Services, Elias is on his way over to the Community Services Department.
There's not a very deep bench atop the city of Tucson right now. Hein moved out many of the high-paid assistant city managers and pushed many longtime employees into early retirement to save the city money. The downside: a decline in institutional memory.
One of City Manager Mike Letcher's first acts was firing Greg Shelko, who came to Tucson from Milwaukee in 2004 to head up the downtown-revitalization effort.
Rather than flat-out firing Shelko, Letcher let him know that his position was being eliminated with the start of a new budget year on July 1.
So who will head up the city's downtown-revitalization efforts? It appears that Republican lawmakers, if they agree to maintain Rio Nuevo funding, will look for a private management company to handle, at the very least, the expansion of the Tucson Convention Center and the construction of a downtown hotel. They don't want the city to have any control of the money. But given that the money is supposed to improve city infrastructure and pay for an expansion of a city-owned facility, we're a little baffled about how that's supposed to work.
Speaking of downtown: Developer Scott Stiteler, a friend of Mike Hein who is the money man behind the east-side redevelopment of downtown (see "East Side Story," April 9), ran into Mayor Bob Walkup outside of City Hall a few days after Hein's firing.
Walkup assured Stiteler that there would still be four votes for his downtown plans.
Stiteler's reply: "That's what you told me last time."
See Jim Nintzel apply for the job of city manager at 6:30 p.m., Friday, on KUAT Channel 6's Arizona Illustrated. This week's guest: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne. The program repeats at 12:30 a.m., Saturday. Nintzel also talks politics with radio ringmaster John C. Scott on Thursday between 4 and 5 p.m. at Scott's new home, KJLL AM 1330.
Find early and late-breaking Skinny and so much more at The Range, the Weekly's all-new daily dispatch, at blog.tucsonweekly.com.