Wednesday, April 08, 2009

One the Mike Hein firing.

Tucson's voters are ridiculously un-critical when it comes time to vote for local government. This is the city that elected antidistinguished citizen Rodney Glassman to its council; party labels matter more than character, reputation, or policy positions.

But I suspect that there's a threshold level of incompetence even Tucsonans won't tolerate. When firing a city manager, as the Tucson City Council fired Mike Hein on Tuesday, it's worth keeping the following in mind:
  1. It is difficult to say that gross, long-term failures of the manager do not also represent failures of oversight. Tucsonan voters can ask "Why did you just start worrying about the defecit now?"
  2. Managers do not set policy. If a manager is fired because of the failure of Council policy, it highlights the policy mistakes of the Council. Case in point: Rio Nuevo.
  3. A fired manager is usually at liberty to speak of a Council's failings. If the Council blames Hein for the City's defecit, and Hein in turn reminds them of their refusal to take his advice, the council--and even individual councilmen--is revealed to be at fault.

In short, barring gross, unexpected staff misconduct, it's impossible for a City Council to cleanly pass the buck. The Tucson Citizen editorial board isn't believing the excuses. Neither is Frank Antenori, which usually means neither do quite a few others who agree but don't have the guts to be Frank Antenori.

This isn't to say that Hein was doing a great job supervising and coordinating staff--there are far more subtle problems than the buddy punching to which he delievered a weak response--or as Executive Director of Rio Nuevo. And the retirement scheme he concocted, which, as I understand it, is not a reason for his firing, was a wrongheaded response to the deficit; getting rid of competent people and institutional memory is the opposite of streamlining. But the voters should consider that their elected officials, too, ought be fired. Most of Hein's failures are in many ways their failures.

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