The intelligent warlord understands that entrance into conflictis senseless without an attitude of complete and total victory
BRUCE POSTIL'S WAR with Pima County began January 5, 1993.
Then deputy county manager, Postil was out to lunch with Pima County Supervisor Dan Eckstrom. Over red chile and carne seca, the two exchanged notes on the big shake-up at the top of county government. The day before, the GOP majority of Ed Moore, Paul Marsh and Mike Boyd had no sooner been sworn into office than they had voted to fire County Manager Enrique Serna and replaced him with Assistant County Manager Manoj Vyas, who had promptly fired the administrative team running Kino Community Hospital. More changes were in the wind.
The other shoe dropped right there at the lunch table. Arizona Daily Star reporters Chris Limberis and Joe Burchell walked up to Postil and handed him a fax.
Vyas had fired him, along with five other longtime county employees. Postil's 19-year career with Pima County was over.
MANOJ VYAS ARRIVED for work on his first full day as county administrator and announced to the world that overnight, having just been elevated to the top county post, he'd taken it on himself to completely restructure county government, combining 20 county departments into five "super-departments." He'd done all this without input from any Board members or county staffers.
The diminutive, dark-eyed Vyas began his 11 months at the reins of the county bureaucracy by telling this utterly bald-faced lie to county staff, the press and the people of Pima County.
The truth was, Vyas had met secretly with all GOP supervisors and been interviewed for the job. He'd worked out details of the reorganization with other county staffers.
Not one of the GOP supervisors saw fit to correct Vyas' untruths.
As a result of his reorganization, Vyas regretted to inform six longtime county employees that their positions had been eliminated. (Several other people were demoted into obscurity.) In fact, he had faxed the notice of their dismissal to the media before he'd actually gotten around to firing them, which was how Limberis and Burchell ended up delivering the news to Postil.
When Postil returned to the county building from lunch, he ran into Vyas in the washroom and asked him why he was planning on firing him.
"He just said he had no choice but to do it," Postil says. "Then we went into his office and I told him, 'They're just using you. You won't last a year here. You don't know what you're doing.' "
Fired along with Postil were:
Larry Bahill, the controversial elections director for Pima County;
Frank Carmen, who ran the county's indigent legal services;
Michael Kuropatkin, who headed the county's information systems;
Gail Topolinski, a 15-year county veteran who had been serving as director of Human Services;
George Widugiris, who ran the county's purchasing department.
Demoted in the reorganization were Carol Koch, who had worked as Postil's executive aide, and Gwyn Sanders, who had been Serna's executive aide.
Because the fax had gone out, reporters were swarming around Vyas' new office on the 11th floor as he brought in the doomed bureaucrats and coldheartedly told them to clear out by the end of the day. TV cameras recorded the shocked looks on people's faces as they walked out of their termination sessions with the new county administrator.
"There was nothing wrong with that reorganization," Moore says. "If you know anything about management, that's the way it should have been done. Did the Clinton Administration go in and say, 'Keep the old guys here?' That's baloney."
Moore admits Vyas could have done things with "more class," but says the purge was necessary.
"For perhaps six months we had an honest county government," Moore says, although he concedes that Vyas started out his tenure by lying about meeting surreptitiously with the supervisors in the months before they were sworn in. "Even though he did some things that were wrong, we were on the start of cleaning up a government that was dirty and corrupt."
Eckstrom has a different spin: "Knowing the group that was coming in, nothing surprised me," he says. "But what surprised me was the way they handled these people with no human touch at all."
Eckstrom remembers Postil took the news of his firing as well as could be expected.
"When he came back to his office, he said, 'Hey, this is what they want, we're outta here,' " Eckstrom says. "He handled it like a warrior."
Eckstrom first met Postil in the late 1970s, when the District 2 supervisor was serving as the mayor of South Tucson and Postil headed up the Pima Association of Governments. Although the two were good friends, Eckstrom is the first to admit Postil is no saint.
"He has a little arrogance to him, he's outspoken," Eckstrom says. "A lot of bureaucrats will tell you what they think you want to hear. He called it like he saw it and that kind of set him apart from other people. There were times I would throw him out of my office and say, 'Get out of here, I never want to see you again,' but he'd come back for more. I didn't always like what he said, but most of the time he was right."
Postil says it took about three minutes for him to decide to fight back. By 3 p.m. that day, the sacked employees had been on the phone to each other; by 3:30 that afternoon, they were in a lawyer's office, planning how best to strike back.
In hindsight, Postil says firing the entire group en masse was the county's biggest mistake.
"From MIS (Management Information Services) to human resources to politics, everybody brought something to the table," Postil says. "The biggest mistake was firing all of us. If they would have picked us off one at a time, this wouldn't have happened. If they had fired me, could I have spent $200,000 to go fight 'em? No, I don't think so. If they would have taken me and six months later somebody else and six months later somebody else, they probably could have picked us all off. But making the mistake of trying to show that they're in charge and exercising authority...was a tactical error on their part. And the biggest mistake was doing it all at once. I have a favorite saying: I never screw around with people who are meaner than me, richer than me or smarter than me. With us, they gave us the resources to be able to do it, they gave us the money to do it, they gave us the talent--because as a group we all had the intellectual resources to do it and there ain't one of them meaner than me. In a real fight when I'm pissed, there is not a person who is meaner than me."
Soon after the Tuesday massacre, Postil gathered the group together and handed out copies of The Art of War, the classic ancient Chinese martial text.
"I just laid it out: We're in for a war here, the county has more money than brains, and they're going to put it to us," Postil says. "They're going to fight it all the way.... We're really going to be in the trenches here. And everybody else, bless their hearts, don't realize how difficult it is to win this. And they say, 'Well, we got screwed, you know.' Well, people get screwed every day. People get the shaft every day--on their jobs, they get laid off, they get downsized. People are going to say, 'So what?' It doesn't really matter. You've got to really have everything together and be willing to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars. And here you've got six people, they're all unemployed. I say to all of 'em, 'You have to be ready for this, it's going to take three to five years, it's going to cost each of us $30,000 to do this. You have to bring in expert testimony, you have to determine damages, you have to do all kinds of shit. You're going to have attorney's fees, administrative fees--even on contingency, you have to pay for all that. So is everybody committed to paying $30,000?' "
Everyone was in. The day after they were fired, the group met with about 10 different lawyers, which had a two-fold effect: Not only did it allow them to shop around for the best deal, but it also meant that the county couldn't hire the best personnel attorneys in the state.
"They all knew that once they talked to us they could no longer be involved in the case," Postil says. "That took out 10 lawyers in town--including a couple in Phoenix. That pretty much ended their ability to hire anyone who specialized in this area."
Less than a week after his firing, Postil had an appointment to have a crown replaced. When he arrived at the office, his dentist told him his insurance had already been canceled.
"These people canceled my dental insurance two days after I was fired," Postil says. "Who does that?"
OVER THE NEXT few days, the group developed their strategy. Different people had assignments: One would clip the Star, another the Citizen. Others would tape the news broadcasts and follow the supes to speaking engagements, because Postil knew they'd be justifying the purge with "outrageous comments."
"The first eight months, we were getting something every day," Postil says. "After that, they stopped talking and the stuff dried up."
In the months that followed, the fired and demoted workers had their complaints heard in front of the Pima County Merit Commission, which protects employee rights.
It was in front of the Merit Commission that Vyas' story began to unravel. In sworn testimony, he admitted the bulk of the reorganization was done by former county finance director Carl Remus. But he continued to lie about meeting with the GOP majority before they were sworn into office.
"We all lost at the Merit Commission, which we knew we would," Postil says. "But we felt we had to go through our administrative remedies. It cost us 60,000 bucks, but it pulled us together as a group and gave us some incentive during a crucial period to gather some evidence. And the Merit Commission hearings gave us a chance to gather some evidence, too."
It was about this time that Frank Carmen, one of the six people fired, dropped out of the group's effort. His separate lawsuit is still pending today.
Over the next few months, Postil, Bahill, Koch, Kuropatkin, Sanders, Topolinski and Widugiris looked over their case. At the end of October, attorney Bill Hansen filed suit on behalf of the seven plaintiffs in U.S. District Court, alleging the dismissals and demotions were illegal and a "behind-the-closed-doors misuse of political power." As well as suing Pima County, the plaintiffs also sought damages from a number of individuals, including Moore, Marsh, Boyd, Vyas and Remus.
"I thought we had a really good case," Postil says. "Doesn't mean you win--you go before a jury, even if you win, a jury can say, 'You get a dollar.' They're taxpayers. Do they want to give some bureaucrat $3 million? 'Fuck these people, I'm making four-fifty an hour, screw em.' "
Unable to hire a specialist in employment law, the GOP majority instead hired Moore's pick: lawyer Larry Schubart, a land-use attorney who had lent Moore money during his 1992 campaign and had represented him personally in other matters. Pima County taxpayers paid Schubart $120 an hour to defend the board members.
In December 1993, after 11 months on the job, Vyas was ousted when Boyd turned on him. Teaming with Democrats Dan Eckstrom and Raul Grijalva, he voted to replace Vyas with Chuck Huckelberry, a former assistant county manager who'd been demoted during the reorganization and who had later quit his county job.
Moore is still bitter over Boyd's defection.
"Mike Boyd is a chicken," Moore says. "The guy doesn't have the backbone of a mouse. He had a wonderful opportunity to do something that would have benefited this community and instead he became a tool for Grijalva and Eckstrom."
Vyas, however, wasn't shown the door. Boyd then sided with Moore and Marsh, arguing that Vyas was too important to dismiss. He remained on the county staff until June 1994, when Huckelberry finally fired him. Later, he briefly took a job with the county attorney's office.
TO SAY POSTIL took an active interest in his lawsuit is a bit of an understatement.
"I probably wrote 10,000 questions and did about 1,000 exhibits," says Postil, who sat in on all but one deposition. "I'd worked in the government for a long time and seen a lot people get screwed over."
Paul Marsh was the first supervisor to be deposed. In the course of questioning, Marsh admitted the GOP majority had met behind closed doors with Vyas and two other county employees, Amos Moses and Carl Remus, to plan the re-organization. Among the others attending some meetings were developers Chris Monson and Joe Cesare and attorney John Munger, whose firm won a lobbying contract after the new board was sworn in.
Marsh claimed to have been taking painkillers at the time, which clouded his ability to pay attention to what happened at the meetings. But enough information penetrated the fog for him to agree to go along with plan. He even decided to vote to install Vyas in the top post after interviewing him at JB's Restaurant (although in the deposition he didn't recall that he had made the motion to hire Vyas).
Asked whether he cared about what happened to the people whose positions were to be abolished, Marsh answered simply: "Why should I?"
Today, Marsh tries to downplay the secret meetings.
"We tried to put some things together before we were even elected to office with the idea of saying, 'What changes can we make that make sense?' " Marsh says. "When you bring in a new administration of any kind, whether its the Clintons or the Bushes or us or whatever, you should have your own people with you.... The methodology obviously was wrong. You just don't do things the way it went. You take care of it in a logical fashion, rather than the big ballyhoo that occurred. That's just bad policy all the way around."
He frankly admits he put his faith in Moore and Boyd.
"I was banking on a lot of experience from Mr. Moore and Mr. Boyd, who had been in office," Marsh says. "I had no real background to say, 'Okay, this is a very wise move,' because half of these persons I'd never even run into. I think in retrospect, it could have been done a whole heck of a lot differently."
"By the end of Paul Marsh's depositions, I was really confident," Postil says. "Here's a guy who said he interviewed the administrator for the administrator's position in December. As dumb as he sounded, for our case, he was terrific. He just came out and said what he remembered, and it was damaging to their side. Very damaging."
But the clincher came after Boyd gave his deposition.
"By the time Mike Boyd was done--which was that summer (of 1994)--I knew the case was over. It was just a question of how much."
IN THE DAYS following the coup, while the team was still tailing the GOP majority, newly sworn-in Supervisor Mike Boyd defended the Board's actions in front of the Saturday Morning Breakfast Club, a far-right gang of conservatives who hate the United Nations, gun laws and the Trilateral Commission. There's no doubt Boyd played to the crowd, with lines like: "Every public employee, every county worker that's hired, in my opinion, takes just a little bit of your freedom away."
Among other things, Boyd told the group an unnamed member of the Board of Supervisors told Human Resources Director Gail Topolinski he would support her if she hired a dozen of his associates; that the purchasing, personnel, facilities management and data processing departments were a "dumping ground for political cronies and political payoffs"; and that the GOP had to swiftly implement the re-organization because rumors were rampant about upcoming changes and "they could have some things right out of the chute that would have hurt us."
Asked in his depositions if he had proof any of those comments were true, Boyd had to admit he didn't. It was all just "gossip" he'd heard but never investigated.
So it went in Boyd's depositions; he was slowly roasted over the hot coals of his own rhetoric. Postil's extensive research had turned up plenty of quotes Boyd was now forced to defend under oath.
After Boyd's final deposition, in August of 1994, Postil was so elated about the case that he bought himself a Toyota Supra Turbo that'll go from zero to 60 in five seconds.
"I said to my lawyer, 'This case is over. It's just question of how much,' " Postil says. "Boyd was done."
Boyd admits he screwed up when he first took office.
"The first six months I stunk up the place," he admits. "I just wasn't very good. I didn't make decisions based on what I thought was right in my heart, I was making decisions based on kind of going along with the group and I learned that was a mistake.... My first year, the only accomplishment I can look at is getting Chuck (Huckelberry) in. The rest was a blur and a nightmare."
Other sources, however, say that Boyd became the decisive vote to install Huckelberry after coming under considerable pressure from the business community, which had decided Vyas was an expendable embarrassment.
Boyd has mixed feelings about the secret meetings in which county government was re-organized in Moore's image.
"I wasn't under the impression that we were doing anything bizarre or sneaky or inappropriate," Boyd says. "We couldn't do that now, but we could do it before we were sworn in and elected. There was no law against that. But in retrospect, I could see the problem in the public's eye with it. In all honesty, I probably got a little carried away with our, quote, mandate, unquote."
Boyd says he wanted to promote Chuck Huckelberry to the top post, but went along with Moore and Marsh instead.
"In a moment of weakness, I was talked into this thing where if the two of the three of us agree on something, you go with it," Boyd remembers. "And it was a mistake. I should have been firmer with Chuck. That was one of my regrets. I think though, after all the turmoil I changed my M.O. from kinda being an upfront grandstander self-promoter to showing up at every meeting I could be at to learn more about what people are talking about.... And I learned quickly that some of the things that Ed and Paul were thinking were important were just not important."
It may be that Boyd learned something else from his depositions. These days, Boyd says he tries "to stay away when the fights are picked. I try to call people on outrageous statements and rhetoric and ask them to back it up right there."
AFTER BOYD finished his depositions, it was County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry's turn. In April 1995, Huckelberry asked what it would take to settle the case. The plaintiffs asked for $6 million.
"Of course, they just blew us off, which we kind of expected they would do," Postil shrugs. "Hey, they were the ones who asked us."
So the case dragged on. In October 1994, Hansen began deposing Moore and Vyas.
"Once they were in there, I could hear the cash register--ka-ching, ka-ching, you know?" Postil grins. "Manoj was so good for us. He'd been fucked himself. All he tried to do in the depositions was protect himself, so he wouldn't be personally liable....Ed was perfect. Ed did everything we could have asked for. I could have kissed him."
As the case moved closer to a trial date in early 1996, negotiations for a settlement began again. Both sides met with Pima County Judge Lawrence Fleischman, who helped hammer out a $3 million settlement figure. In December, the Board voted to settle the case.
But the suit cost county taxpayers more than $3 million. Gwyn Hatcher, who had settled with the county earlier, received $250,000. The cost to have Schubart defend the county approached $300,000, which doesn't include the cost to county taxpayers in staff time and the hard costs of court filings, deposition copies and other items. The total costs for Pima County taxpayers were close to $4 million, and there are still cases pending from the Vyas era, which could drive the total even higher.
Moore blames Boyd for the loss.
"We never had to pay a dime," Moore says. "Mike Boyd...personally attacked Gail Topolinski and said things about her that weren't true. What he said was a personal attack and slander. Fleischman talked to all the supervisors and said you'd better settle the lawsuit because one of the 11 defendants has lied like a trooper and your case is only as strong as your weakest link."
"Ed added to the sum quite a bit for defamation," counters Postil. "Ed in his deposition said the only crooks in the room were me and Bahill. He said we were liars and crooks and thieves and we asked him every time in his depositions to present any evidence that he had and he never did."
Moore still defends the reorganization, which he says saved the county "millions and millions and millions of dollars, because some of the games stopped. Some of the players who were playing games with taxpayers' dollars were no longer able to play."
Ask him which games those were, and Moore defers.
"I won't go into that," he says enigmatically. "There were a lot of things where we lost money because we had the wrong people in positions of power....You had a bunch of people up here that helped work out the deals where taxpayer money was given to favorite people who were political contributors. That's the whole game for some of these people."
Moore and Marsh argue the settlement isn't any higher than they would have paid the fired staffers had they stayed on. But taxpayers still had to pay all of their replacements, like the current election and Management Information Services directors, the aides that replaced Vyas and Koch, the deputy county manager Huckelberry hired to replace Postil and the five "superdepartment" heads hired at high salaries under Vyas.
The entire affair is haunting Marsh and Boyd in their quest for re-election. (Moore, who masterminded the whole affair, is running as an independent candidate in the general election, a maneuver that has allowed him to dodge a costly Republican primary against Ann Holden and Vicki Cox-Golder.)
"There are some things Paul has done that bother me a great deal," says retired attorney John Even, who is challenging Marsh for the District 4 Republican nomination in the September 10 primary. "I think being involved in the majority three that fired those people--it's going to cost us millions of dollars. Plus the amount of time and effort that we've had employees of the county sitting in deposition or talking to lawyers instead of doing their jobs. Trying to defend that case is outrageous--really outrageous."
BRUCE POSTIL SAYS he was very angry after he was fired. "I was pissed," says Postil. "I was very pissed. I always felt they had the authority to get rid of me, to reassign me, to get me a different job. They have that ability as an elected body. I believe that today. And I testified to that under oath. But the way they did it...and then after it's done they come in and try to justify why they did it by calling me a crook and a liar and a bandit and a thief."
But he says it only took a few months to get past the anger--"We were gathering evidence and I knew they were going to continue to screw up," he says--and he adds it wasn't all about revenge. He was concerned about his ability to land a job in the future. In today's electronic world, where newspapers are available on anyone's keyboard, being forced out in a purge could have a significantly negative effect.
"There's a cloud hanging over you," he says. "There's something screwy here--all these people were fired in one day and they were dishonest. It has a chilling effect on your ability to get a job. That pissed me off a lot. The idea that they can get rid of people, that doesn't piss me off, they had a right to do it. They just need to know--hopefully they've learned this, although I have my doubts--but hopefully they've learned to do things and respect the individuals involved."
These days, Postil doesn't need to work. He oversees some rental properties he owns, but other than that, he's just enjoying his settlement.
Of course, he has his cars: There's the Supra Turbo, and just a few months ago he picked up a restored '57 Chevy convertible.
And these days, he can be seen for about five seconds in Kevin Costner's new film, the recently released Tin Cup, in a scene where he's throwing money around in a topless bar.
"If there could be lesson on how not to do something, this would be a perfect case study," Postil says. "Literally, they didn't do one single thing right. And," he adds with a smile, "of course we're very grateful."
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