B y D a v e D e v i n e
TUCSON CITY COUNCIL aides are in a unique position--they're political activists who have an insider's view of government. At the same time, because of the nature of their jobs, they can't speak out about their personal views on community concerns.
The Weekly decided to talk to several former aides to find out their opinions on the major issues facing the city, the job the current city council is doing, and their thoughts on the upcoming city council election. All of these interviews were conducted on the basis of anonymity.
Not surprisingly, those interviewed identified water, crime and low wages and the need for an improved economy as three of the major problems confronting the community. But they also mentioned public apathy, transportation, poor fiscal management and too much control by City Manager Michael Brown and city staff as concerns.
One former aide characterized the present city council as leaderless and ineffectual. Another said the council tried hard but that there was too much in-fighting among some of its members for them to achieve results.
The present council was applauded, however, for focusing more attention on youth programs and for encouraging infill development. They were criticized for hiring consultants and then not paying attention to their recommendations. One former aide thought that when the council had to choose between any Tucson sacred cow--CAP, unlimited growth, the tourism economy--versus improving the quality of life for the present residents of the city, the sacred cows always win.
Most of the aides were critical of Brown and the power the council has given him. One said, "He puts on a good show, but when the dust settles all he'll have done is stir manure but not move the city forward."
Another thought Brown was padding his resume by proposing one grandiose scheme after another, like the downtown campus location for a new university, the Rocking K annexation and the DevCon redevelopment proposal. But, this former aide predicted, Brown would leave Tucson at the first sign of an economic slowdown: "He is a tax-and-spender who doesn't know how to balance a budget without raising taxes. He's given the checkbook to the city employees and let them set their own salaries. So when the revenues start to decline, he is out of here."
The upcoming City Council elections are interesting, at least to some of the former aides, because "it's a battle between the old guard wanting a swan song and a new breed of younger politician who is more in touch with what's going on in the community." Another cast this difference as the status quo versus new, unknown people who have yet to clearly define what they believe in.
One former aide called the mayor's race in the Democratic primary a contest between a "staff rubber-stamper" (George Miller) and a political opportunist (Bruce Wheeler). Several of them also saw the Democratic primary in the Ward 1 council race as a test between these two camps. "The mayoral primary race could get real dirty, since the two men don't like each other," one aide said. "And the race in Ward 1 could also be nasty. The Republicans might just be able to take advantage of that."
Issues may be secondary to personalities in this year's City Council primary races, but one issue every candidate will probably agree on is the need for higher-paying jobs. One former aide noted that while the candidates traditionally sing this song, the elected members of the city council keep on spending Tucson's economic development funds on baseball stadiums, the tourism industry and the Copper Bowl.
What advice would these former political insiders give to those candidates who are elected in November?
One suggested controlling the salaries of top-level management by setting a percentage differential between the highest and lowest-paid city employees. Another warned the city better start planning for the new economic era when the federal sugar daddy isn't there to pay for this program or that.
Finally, one former aide expressed the opinion of many people when urging the City Council to do a better job of communicating with the public about the important issues facing the city. "At the same time," this former aide said, "the council ought to get rid of many of its citizen advisory boards. It doesn't listen to them anyway. But those they keep, they should pay attention to."
Illustration by Joe Forkan.
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