The City Of Tucson Gets A New Top Dog. Is He Enough Of A Leader To Handle The Job?
By Dave Devine
WHEN LUIS Gutierrez moves his chair into the city manager's office at the end of the month, what changes in administrative style from the tumultuous years of Michael Brown's reign can we expect?
A more locally knowledgeable, calmer administration, if a survey of local leaders is accurate.
Gutierrez replaces Brown on November 30, after Brown was pushed to move on by Mayor George Miller and council members Steve Leal and José Ybarra. Brown's administration was known for its dictatorial style, his demands for hard work and long hours from upper-level management, and his frequent temper flare-ups. Brown is also a man famous for his enormous ego.
That's certainly not a trait of Gutierrez. A Tucsonan through and through, Gutierrez's style, according to Jaime Gibbons of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is "quiet, in an effective way." Gibbons characterizes Gutierrez as persistent and knowledgeable about both local issues and the people within city government. Gibbons also says Gutierrez has been very helpful about business matters in the past.
Former City Councilman Bruce Wheeler echoes those sentiments. He calls Gutierrez "fair, down-to-earth" and believes he'll be far superior to Brown as city manager. Wheeler says Brown was divisive, and predicts Gutierrez will be much better.
Also hopeful for the next administration is Sharon Chadwick, a long-time neighborhood-based activist who's seen several city managers come and go. She believes Gutierrez will be better than Brown in running the city, in part because she feels there'll be fewer outsiders involved in the city administration. Plus, she adds, Gutierrez will be more interested in hiring local people than Brown was.
But some questions remain about a Gutierrez administration. One is how he'll approach the contentious issue of Central Arizona Project water. Another is how he'll deal with the chaos in the administration of the Tucson Water Department.
The top-level management of the department is on "special assignment," in other words, looking for other jobs while being pressured to resign. This has resulted in a leaderless department without clear direction. Combined with the deep philosophical split on the City Council about how to handle the CAP issue, the lack of leadership has left Tucson Water adrift for a long time.
Gutierrez's managerial style of heavily relying on the advice of department heads, as opposed to Brown's dictatorial manner, could pose real problems in this critical area. Without anyone in charge at Tucson Water, who will Gutierrez look to for advice about how to handle CAP and other water-related issues?
Elinor Marcek, chair of Citizens for Quality Water, a group which has been outspoken in its complaints about Tucson Water, believes Gutierrez is well appraised of the water situation. But, she adds, he's never said anything to her about possible solutions.
Marcek hopes Gutierrez will be an improvement over Brown in the handling of Tucson's water woes. She says Brown didn't know much about water issues and that what's needed is a professional water expert to head Tucson Water. An attempt to do that failed under Brown, many believe because he insisted on dictating water policy from his office. But the need, according to Marcek, still exists.
Two other organizations the new City Manager will have to deal with are labor unions representing different groups of city employees. With a growing budget crunch facing the city in the next few years, the cooperation from these unions will be essential in keeping city spending under control.
Richard Anemone, head of the Tucson Police Officers Association, says he hasn't had many dealings with Gutierrez. But in those he's had, Anemone says he's found Gutierrez to be professional and courteous, qualities he believes are needed in a city manager. Anemone says there was a good atmosphere coming from Brown's office in labor negotiations, and adds he's looking forward to dealing with Gutierrez.
Ray Figueroa, local field services director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 97, says he'll take a wait-and-see approach to a Gutierrez administration. Figueroa says Gutierrez's long-time involvement with the city and his awareness of local history are benefits. But he hasn't met with Gutierrez since his appointment, so he remains cautious.
Brown, according to Figueroa, was willing to listen to his requests but might not have agreed with them. Figueroa is hoping he can count on at least the same from Gutierrez.
City-employee raises and other budget problems will be among Gutierrez's top problems in the coming months. While the city council spends money like the financial liberals they are, a local economic slowdown combined with enormous environmental cleanup costs will force some tough decisions. How Gutierrez will propose to deal with this potentially volatile situation remains to be seen.
While most people seemed pleased with Gutierrez's appointment, some cautionary notes have been sounded by city hall insiders who wish to remain anonymous. One potential problem is the new manager's mellow, laid-back style. This, they fear, will result in a reversal of Brown's demand for excellence in management.
Others believe Gutierrez is too much of a defender of the staff and not enough of a leader.
A final concern voiced by many is his relationship with the Pima County Interfaith Council, a collection of primarily church-based social activists. A comment heard repeatedly inside city hall is that when it comes to social and neighborhood programs, Gutierrez takes direction from PCIC.
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