Monday, February 21, 2005

Michael: 20/20 Hein Sight

The appointment of a new city manager is a lot like the appointment of Supreme Court justices. It is supposed to be bipartisan, meritocratic, and somewhat apolitical, yet in reality it is anything but. It is a struggle for the great institutional power that the Justices hold in our Federal government, and that the city manager wields in our Charter. Just as with the Senatorial confirmations, the proceedings set out to be fair and deliberative, but soon enough the long knives come out. The short-circuiting of the carefully crafted evaluation process to perform a national search for a new city manager, just to wind up anointing Hein in a backroom deal, strikes many as rank partisan maneuver. However, just as the hoped-for appointment of another Rhenquist, in the person of stealth candidate Souter, turned out poorly for Conservatives, the sudden anointment of Hein may also turn awry.

A registered Democrat of blue-collar heritage, Hein's work history in Arizona government strongly indicates an ability to take the long view, abiding respect for long-range planning and able administration, an ability to navigate choppy political waters, and, perhaps most importantly, a willingness to reign in unchecked growth at the expense of current citizens through impact fees. I just wish our Democratic council members had grumbled longer before throwing their weight behind Hein. The imperial and anti-democratic manner of Hein's selection is a wonderful political issue for contesting Ward 6 and the mayoral race (a pinch of perception being worth a pound of policy in politics). But I think they recognized a good thing and rushed, in a slightly unseemly manner, to cement the deal.

If nothing else, the manner of Hein's selection, behind the scenes by an un-elected group of Republican power brokers, makes clear where political power truly lies under the Cheerleader's administration. It demonstrates clearly how undemocratic city politics and government have become. If only Democratic leaders had held back more, cried "Oh no, don't throw me in that briar patch!" a few times before giving in, the political lesson would have clearer to voters in the upcoming elections. In the end, I suspect that Hein will be the best thing to happen to Tucson in long time. I don't know if the powerbrokers thought they were getting a 'Rhenquist' in Hein, I can only conclude they were inept if so, because they quite evidently selected a 'Souter', or maybe even a 'Hugo Black'.

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