Chucking Huckelberry?

Who'll Head Up Pima County's Vast Bureaucracy?
By Emil Franzi

PIMA COUNTY Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, whose contract to head up Pima County's bureaucracy expired at the end of 1996, is playing for three votes to retain his position.

Huckelberry has three votes if you count the Growth Lobby, and four if you count the editorial board of the Tucson Citizen, which recently endorsed his continued presence at the helm of county government. But the only two votes that matter are from Republican supervisors Mike Boyd and John Even.

Returning Democratic supervisors Dan Eckstrom and Raul Grijalva have long been critical of Huckelberry, and he's gotten into trouble with newly elected Democrat Sharon Bronson for several reasons:

  • Huckelberry has drafted no overall plan on how to deal with the poor financial condition the majority GOP members of the last board left behind;

  • Nor has he been sharing with all board members the monthly reports he receives outlining the major budget problems Pima County faces.

  • He's retained in high positions many of the overpaid administrators his predecessor, Manoj Vyas, installed after the 1993 purge. And some of those people are responsible for the county's money woes.

Combine that with Huckelberry's strong support from the Growth Lobby and GOP board members, and it becomes obvious why Bronson isn't about to give him another blank check in the form of a long-term contract.

"There's been a lot of speculation about the continued employment of the county manager and some of what has been written about me is inaccurate," Bronson says. "I think the county adminstrator should serve solely at the discretion of the board and not be given contracts with a defined minimum term of employment and golden parachutes."

Speaking of golden parachutes, Huckelberry was entitled to $83,000--which covers untaken sick and vacation time--when his contract expired. Huckelberry has deposited $22,500 in his retirement account and says he would collect the balance if the board terminates him.

The swing vote among the supervisors would appear to be Grijalva, who's angling for his own choice as Huckelberry's replacement--either former county manager Enrique Serna or current County Parks Director Dan Felix. Grijalva opposes his two Democratic supervisorial colleagues, who appear to be leaning toward former deputy county manager Bruce Postil as the person most able to turn around the county's financial problems. Postil is considered handicapped by his successful lawsuit against Pima County over his 1993 firing from his post, and the fact that he financially contributed to Bronson's campaign.

Boyd, apparently still smarting from many of Postil's cutting remarks and his exposure of Boyd's ineptitude during the litigation of Postil's suit, is vehemently opposed to Postil, saying he'd be nothing but a waterboy for Eckstrom. Boyd is an expert on waterboys, having been one for assorted developers during his board tenure.

Postil himself has done nothing to promote his candidacy, saying the real decision should be made by Huckelberry, whom he considers a close friend. After all, Postil doesn't exactly need the job, since he reportedly collected more than a million bucks after suing the county when he was fired at the command of the GOP majority in 1992.

Huckelberry himself has waged no major campaign to keep the post and says he's waiting for three supes to make a decision.

Although the mainstream media has drawn parallels between the debate about retaining Huckelberry and the infamous 1993 purge pushed by the then-newly-elected GOP majority, the comparison is hardly similar.

There have been no secret meetings of the Democrat majority to pick and choose personnel. Both Bronson and Grijalva have met with their Republican colleagues to discuss policy and personnel, something hardly prohibited by Open Meeting laws. No one proposed firing Huckelberry, whose contract has--we remind you--expired December 31. Instead, proposals have involved moving him to his area of greatest expertise as public works director. That hardly compares to illegally dismissing a bunch of folks, as Vyas did while fronting for the three GOP supes--one of whom was Boyd. Or holding a series of hush-hush meetings that were questionably legal, choosing Vyas to replace Serna, and then having Vyas execute a pre-determinted hit list under the guise of "reorganization."

And why is it good public policy to maintain the same top bureaucracy regardless of the varying philosophies of those elected? The phony argument that humble civil servants simply carry out the will of elected officials is a bigger myth than the Tooth Fairy--check Tucson Water, whose bureaucrats have thumbed their noses at the city council for years. Why shouldn't a new board of supervisors change managers, like new presidents or governors get to change cabinets?

As of press time, the matter of Huckelberry's contract had not been placed on the agenda for the January 14 meeting.

Will Grijalva join his GOP colleagues and vote to retain Huckelberry thanks to media and Growth Lobby pressure? Will Eckstrom and Bronson cave in and join Grijalva for one of his choices? Will Grijalva cave in and go with Postil? These questions--and so much more--will be answered in the weeks to come.

Tune into Emil Franzi Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KTUC, 1400-AM. TW

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