Tucson's Know-It-All

Rick Myers' passion for community service could lead to the city manager's office

Rick Myers is everywhere, and he knows everything.

The former IBM executive is at City Hall, telling administration and the City Council where the money is. He's at Pima County, telling administration and the Board of Supervisors how to reform the county's patronage-heavy contracting and purchasing practices.

He's at United Way, telling its administration and board how to clean up the agency's act. He's at the Tucson Unified School District, telling the superintendent and school board how to tighten its bloated bureaucracy and spending. He's at the Legislature, getting state permission for a Regional Transportation Authority. He now will head the RTA's citizen committee and will, no doubt, tell us how we will commute, where we will drive, on what roads we'll drive and how we will levy a sales tax to pay for the transportation improvements--though voters have previously slammed three similar proposals.

And, in between his role on a long list of other boards and his final weeks as the president of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, he instructs business graduate students and others at the UA.

But what does Rick Myers really want?

The official line, from Myers and his fans, is that he wants simply to "help the community continue to be a place we can all be proud of."

But with City Manager James Keene fleeing in January for calmer politics as the top executive with California's association of counties, Myers now is being touted as a possible replacement.

It is a big, high-profile and influential position that would allow grand-scale manifestation of Myers' goal to have a role in the governance and administration of Tucson.

Myers is not lobbying for the job, unlike David Modeer, the city's water director and the other prominent city manager hopeful. Myers doesn't need to--at least at this point. He has insiders, legitimate power brokers and Arizona Daily Star columnist Jim Kiser handling promotion.

What Myers will say is that it would be "irresponsible" to not consider the job if the City Council decides it would be more prudent to put in local talent, even on an interim basis. The council voted Monday to delay hiring of a permanent manager for 13 months.

After a career filled with moves and many overseas business trips, Myers conceded that he also would like to spend more time with his family, including his parents.

Myers, now 48, retired from IBM after a 25-year career in June 2003. He joined when he completed his bachelor's of science degree in engineering from the University of Alabama-Huntsville in 1978. The son of an assembly line worker, Myers moved to Alabama with his family before his senior year of high school, when his father's company relocated.

Long an executive in IBM's printing division and a member of the company's elite, 300-person (out of 330,000 employees) Senior Management Group, Myers did two tours at IBM's Tucson plant. The first came after the company, then struggling to survive, chopped jobs and consolidated operations, leaving its Tucson operation just a shell of what it once was. Myers moved here from Boulder, Colo., in 1989, returned to Boulder in 1993, and then came back to Tucson in 1998 to be the general manager of the Tucson site.

He and his wife put down deeper roots on the northeast side--outside the city limits--in a $405,000 home south of the Raven golf course. He was an independent voter until last year, when he signed up with the Republican Party.

Friends, colleagues in the Leadership Council and supporting politicians praise Myers for his exceedingly polite manner, his thoughtfulness, a willingness to work toward solutions, an ability to listen, and his patience. They are qualities clearly exhibited in an hour spent with the Weekly.

Myers, colleagues say, is not pushing the agenda of any special interest group, though critics of the Leadership Council contend that with its development-laden membership, it is a shadow government for the Growth Lobby.

Even those who are not on his bandwagon have trouble taking the shots that otherwise come so easily against other government, political and civic players. Some cringe. One top city official said that Myers is a "well-meaning nerd. And you can't beat up on a nerd."

"I don't know if I'd call him nerdy," said Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias, a Democrat. "He's too sophisticated to be a nerd."

Ann Day, the Republican Pima County supervisor who appointed Myers to the committee that recommended procurement reforms, gushes about him.

"My gosh, he's good," Day said. "He's very smart. He understands the issues and he's low-key in the way he comes across. He is able to listen to everybody and is a good consensus-builder."

Steve Lynn, a vice president of Tucson Electric Power Co. parent Unisource and the chairman of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, called Myers "a phenomenal guy." Myers' ability to listen is a "terrific skill," Lynn said, adding that Myers also is able to synthesize information and make it understandable.

"He's going to be involved in the community one way or another as opportunities present themselves, be it an elected or appointed position."

Lynn agreed with another Leadership Council member, attorney Si Schorr, who said that while many believe a city manager must come from the ranks of municipal government or management, that is not the case for Myers. Schorr says Myers has learned from his service on city and county committees and is bright enough to bypass what Schorr calls "City Manager University."

"There's a reason why IBM put him in all those positions," including on the Senior Management Group, said Schorr, a member of the state Transportation Board and major player in the Regional Transportation Authority.

Myers, who also has no trouble talking, credits his time on IBM's Senior Management Group and the leadership of then-CEO Louis Gerstner, who Myers says summoned his top 300 to New York, sat them in the room and implored them to be his "change agents" in reversing IBM's sharp slide that included an $8 billion loss one year.

What leadership style would Myers bring?

"I believe your leadership style must reflect those you are leading," Myers said.

Elias said that Myers should be viewed as serious candidate for city manager.

"I think Rick is a person who has some really good community goals in his mind and in his heart and he works hard to reach them," said Elias, who is not among those pushing Myers. "He's developed (through his work on multiple committees) a set of constituents and I can see where he'd be a legitimate candidate for city manager."

Whatever the City Council does, be prepared to see and hear Myers even in his "retirement."

"I don't want to be on a golf course," Myers says.

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