About Mike Hein

The story behind the man about to become Tucson's city manager, and the process that led him to the position

So complete is Mike Hein's lack of ego and presumptuousness that when it came to becoming the lone Tucson city manager "candidate," he didn't campaign for the job, didn't prepare a resume and had consolidated his retirement accounts into the state system to which Pima County employees belong.

As a deputy Pima County administrator, Hein was content to guide the landmark transformation of the region's increasingly splintered, increasingly stumbling economic-development effort. He was pleased to work the details and handle the negotiations aimed at a full county takeover of the Tucson-Pima Library System, freeing up to $10 million a year in city money. He was satisfied in his $144,456-a-year job bringing--sometimes dragging--the county's economic development and community services into the 21st century.

He was pleased, after moving from Marana city manager to the county post in August 2003, to be County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry's heir apparent.

Now he will presumably be Huckelberry's counterpart, a near equal in the management of the region's other $1-billion-a-year government. Supporters also hope Hein will tame the openly obdurate city bureaucracy to create the first example of solid city-county cooperation--or at least a sharp reduction in the waste of money that decades-long turf battles have cost taxpayers.

At 38, Hein would be the youngest man to take the top job at the city in modern history.

Unlike Tucson Water Director David Modeer, Hein did not parade for the job. Unlike former IBM executive Rick Myers, Hein did not engage in an orchestrated movement to be considered for the position.

City Hall insiders confirmed last week that Myers was but "a half-vote away" from becoming city manager late last year. Myers, the immediate past point man for the pro-growth Southern Arizona Leadership Council, rose like Icarus and rapidly fell. It is a pattern for many initial front-runners for municipal leadership. Even as they were touting Myers' ability to listen and build consensus, the influential players in this contest began talking up Hein.

Hein, an utterly humble Wisconsin native who worked in South Tucson, survived Nogales politics and led Marana government's efforts to grow up responsibly. He executes what Myers preaches.

A registered Democrat who lives in Oro Valley, Hein was thrust into the lead position several weeks ago, when some at City Hall approached Bob McMahon, head of a Tucson restaurant empire, about the dawdling pace of the City Council's national search for a manager.

McMahon needed little convincing of Hein's skills, and he began the push with help from his longtime friend, Joel Valdez, the former city manager and current vice president for business at the UA. Others included Myers' Leadership Council pal, S.L. Schorr, a Tucson lawyer; developer (La Paloma and Dove Mountain) David Mehl; and Larry Hecker, the lawyer who has aided local governments on commissions and committees for many years.

McMahon knows little about the details of city government, but he can host a sit-down at his steakhouse and has the ear of most council members. Fred Ronstadt and Kathleen Dunbar, two Republicans who will be fighting for re-election this fall, were particularly attentive; they dropped ideas of a national search. Steve Leal, the Democrat who is the council's senior member, also supported Hein. Leal is seeking a fifth term in the fall. Two other Democrats, Shirley Scott and Jose Ibarra, also supported forgoing the search in favor of Hein. Mayor Bob Walkup, a Republican, first said he supported proceeding with the search, then voted with five others to focus on Hein. Only Democrat Carol West protested.

Valdez's support was key. He was an effective and powerful city manager for 17 years--longer than the combined tenure of his five successors. He also remains a key leader in Tucson's diverse Hispanic community.

West has spoken for City Hall bureaucrats who adamantly opposed anyone from the county. She first gave voice to the city bureaucracy's dislike for all thing county when Dunbar and Ibarra floated the concept of luring Huckelberry to the city's top job.

Hein appeals to McMahon's hope for regionalism and greater, if not great, city-county relations.

Democrats were always comfortable with Hein. It can be argued that he is their guy. He came out of South Tucson, the political turf of former powerful Supervisor Dan Eckstrom, and Nogales. Leal, Eckstrom and their colleagues in the southside Democratic power structure apparently got their man in the city's top job while Republicans did the heavy lifting. Ronstadt's motion last week to abandon the national search while interviewing Hein was quickly seconded by Leal, a supremely rare voting combination.

So little did Hein covet the job that when the city's human resources people called for his resume, Hein said, "I don't have one."

"If there is solid proof (that he wasn't eyeing the city manager position)--if you don't believe the resume story--I put all my retirement in the state system," Hein says.

Mike Hein is a relaxed, fit man with a calm demeanor and self-deprecatory manner. A lifelong athlete, he is not too pious to have a cigarette. He is polite, but he isn't overly impressed. He is nice, but he isn't weak, and you quickly get the impression that he won't be the one to back down from a fight.

He says he is "a little overwhelmed by all the positive expressions from such a wide cross section" that includes business leaders, developers and neighborhood and environmental activists.

"It is gratifying to know people believe that I treated them fairly," Hein says.

Orphaned as a youngster, Hein was adopted and grew up in a loving foster family in Wauwatosa, on the Milwaukee line. His father was a mill worker in a lumberyard and his mother was a "loving and typical" Midwestern homemaker.

His father was seriously and permanently injured when he was struck by a car. Hein was in middle school. His mother didn't drive and used city buses to ferry Hein and the other kids.

"It wore on my mother," Hein says.

She, too, was tough. "She was in and out of hospice four times before she passed when I was in high school," Hein says.

Hein played basketball in high school. He fesses up that he and the coach didn't get along. He also concedes that he "never aspired to high education. I wanted a job so I could enjoy a six-pack once in a while." A Jiffy Lube seemed like a suitable place to earn that kind of money, but Hein saw some college literature that included partying. Bearable.

Filling out financial aid papers, Hein says he asked his dad what the family's annual income was.

"What did you make with that coaching job you had last summer?" his dad responded.

That was it.

"Loaded," as Hein says, with Pell grants, he headed off to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He graduated in four years in 1988 with a double-major in public administration and political science, and a double-minor. He interned, in a bit of foreshadowing, for the city-county government.

The kid who considered a Jiffy Lube career for beer money then was prodded by professors to go to graduate school.

Money mattered. Hein said he would have loved Maryland for its joint law and master's in public administration program, but the school didn't offer assistantships. The University of Chicago had the prestige and assistantships, but horrid winters. The UA had both warm weather assistantships; Hein accepted a job as a dorm director.

"I packed everything I had in an Army C bag, got on a plane for the first time in my life and came to Tucson. I landed with $21 in my pocket," Hein says. "I put the bag in oleander bushes outside Apache-Santa Cruz dorms and went to a saw mill for a job. Where else is a kid from Wisconsin going to work?"

Backing up, Hein notes that he borrowed the money for his plane ticket from his wife, Patricia. The two grew up on the same block and attended the same high school, but didn't meet one another until later.

"She continues to remind me that she loaned me the money," Hein says.

At the UA's highly ranked MPA program, Hein flourished but baffled his professors. All of his classmates in the class of 1991 were bent on Washington, D.C., internships. Hein liked local government and its delivery of goods and services. Faculty eyes glazed over. What about government ethics, Hein asked.

"You'll be unemployable," he was told.

And then the Keating Five scandal broke out, with Arizona's two senators, Republican John McCain and Democrat Dennis DeConcini, having to defend their actions in sticking up for convicted financier Charles H Keating and his collapsed Lincoln Savings & Loan.

"I had a sense of obligation," Hein says of his grant-supported education. He wrote to many Wisconsin politicians, from then-Senator William Proxmire on down to county executives (the mayors of some county governments), saying he would work for free.

"No one called or wrote back. I must have written bad letters," Hein says.

He stayed and worked an internship and several jobs in South Tucson.

"I cherish that to this day," Hein says. "You get wide exposure and greater variety in smaller jurisdictions. I helped reformat the budget, worked with police, public works, the fire department. I encourage graduate students to go to the small communities. They need the help and you can do more."

From the frying pan, Hein went to the fire when he joined Nogales city government as planning and zoning director, the first of several jobs that included finance director and assistant administrator from 1993 through 1997.

For all the rough and tumble of Pima County politics, it pales in comparison to Nogales, where political treachery has been both art and sport, particularly when the Nogales city charter guaranteed conflict with a strong mayor as the CEO. Continuity was out the window because mayors served a two-year term and were limited to just two consecutive terms.

Hein, by all accounts, kept everyone happy. He served Jose Canchola, the businessman who owns several McDonald's restaurants in Tucson and Nogales, during Canchola's choppy tenure as mayor (during which he was blasted as a carpetbagger) and the more turbulent term of the boy mayor, Louis Valdez, just 20 when elected.

"When I look back, I have no idea how I survived," Hein says.

Valdez, ripped for his attention to MTV and his bar tabs covered with city credit cards, once presided over a meeting that produced a narrow vote to support a tight budget. Reporters captured Valdez saying all the right things after the meeting: the budget was a compromise, and no one got everything they wanted. But the next day, with Hein out golfing, Valdez exercised his right to veto the budget. Chaos ensued. The fiscal year began. Money wouldn't flow. The city was like the federal government, needing a continuing resolution to keep basic functions and services going.

Out on the golf course, Hein's beeper wouldn't shut up. It flashed 911. Hein answered the summons and the mayor's office still wearing his spikes. Valdez was entertaining some federal big shot and was set to leave on an extended European trip.

"Mike," he told Hein, "I've vetoed the budget. You've got to sign it."

Hein refused, pitching the document back to Valdez. But he secured sufficient votes from the council to keep the city operating. That was, Hein says, a time when he considered himself fired. He went home and didn't answer any of the panicked calls.

Cesar Rios won a heated election to succeed Valdez, but he didn't bother to await the official canvass of disputed results to call Hein and ask for office space. Hein finessed a way to get the mayor-elect space in City Hall, where Valdez still, if temporarily, presided.

Hein considered himself on thin ice, but the new mayor called him to say, "We're going to keep you, but with a cut in pay." That changed to, "Mike, we'd like to keep you with the same pay." And that evolved into, "Mike, we want to keep you, but with a raise."

Hein brought financial reforms and stability to Nogales and tapped federal sources for the overstressed city's needs. He assisted in the rewrite of the city charter to eliminate that mayoral-council animus.

Unruffled as he is, Hein and his wife spotted the ad for the Marana position for someone to succeed Hurvie Davis, a former Tucson transportation director who announced a long-range plan to groom a replacement.

Some 200 people applied. The ultimate test for Hein and the few other finalists was a reverse field trip. Ora Harn, then Marana's mayor and the embodiment of the town's country-bumpkin government, and Davis, a sharp and personable man, were to "observe" Hein in his Nogales environment.

It worked. Hein started as an assistant manager in June 1997 and took over from Davis a year later.

Hein picked up where Davis left off, forcing Marana to grow into its wildly expanded borders and to quit its practice of being the region's patsy for developers.

Under Hein, Marana levied the highest impact fees in the county upon new construction. It pioneered the construction sales tax. And when it couldn't wait for county transportation bonds or hope that the money would ameliorate dreadfully congested roads, the town passed an increase in its sales tax for roads. Tucson and Pima County have failed to do so four times.

Hein also got Marana positioned with Pima County for the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, and Marana, though it has big developments like Dove Mountain, began to demand set asides for open space and preservation.

Environmentalists have been pleasantly surprised. Developers praise Hein for helping institute rules they all know. Hein gives the credit to his Marana councils for all progress, big or small.

An example of Hein's local and quaint focus is the time Marana government caught hell from a resident fired up about the lack of a traffic signal that would allow her and her neighbors to get on a main road safely. Her letter was nasty. All the bureaucratic studies--traffic warrants and the like--showed the light was not justified. Plus, there was the fail-safe excuse that the light was not in budget. Hein was determined to make it happen, considering not warrants and other bureaucratic hindrances, but the reality of access. He found out the woman's birth date and on that day had an aide arrange for a cake decorated with a traffic light to be delivered to the woman's home. It was attributed not to Hein, but to the Marana council. The light was recently installed.

Totally opposite James Keene, the city manager Hein will likely replace, Hein is best at building consensus among decision makers without alienating other players. He loves to dole out credit.

His first test will be to uphold the proposal he marshaled for a county takeover of library funding and operation, a move that will require city funding for several years.

Hein is a believer in contextual management. He combines art and craft. In Nogales, he says, he used more craft than art and the reverse in Marana.

He blows off steam by "hanging with his wife and kids," by playing golf and "fat man's basketball." Indeed, he is part of the league run by Weekly columnist Tom Danehy.

He's come, or slipped, a long way from the days when he was a graduate student playing regularly with members of the UA team. "Kenny Lofton (the former UA basketball, baseball and Major League star) was fast. Let me tell you," he reports.

Hein also attended a summer program in 2001 for government officials at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Now, he is about to move up to a premier municipal job as the CEO of one of the largest cities that is run by an appointed manager.

He is grounded, forced to keep his head and humility by his wife and by his past.

"I don't have as much stress as most people," Hein says. "You want a bad job, go be a fry cook. People hollering at you all day. My job changes every day. That's stress. And clearly I make in a few weeks what my family made in a year."