Breaking: Letcher Announces Resignation

City Manager Mike Letcher has announced he will be resigning August of next year. I’ve uploaded his resignation letter for your perusal, but here’s a money paragraph:

Unfortunately, I cannot change the current political and media climate in this community that focus more on blame than resolution. I know now that I can only go so far in changing the organizational climate of the city that has not seen consistent City Management since Joel Valdez. I know that I will continue to find problems to fix that expose the city to public criticism. Based on these facts I am submitting my resignation as City Manager effective August 31, 2012. This will allow me to complete one more budget cycle and for the new Mayor and Council to start a thoughtful recruitment process to select the next City Manager.

I take it from reading the letter that Letcher won’t be able asking Steve Kozachik for free Wildcat basketball tickets.

There is a rumor of a big firing to come later today. I’ll try to run that one down for y’all before I name names and look like an idiot.

26 thoughts on “Breaking: Letcher Announces Resignation

  1. I predict a rewnewed push by the Star editorial board and the usual suspects towards a ‘strong mayor’ government again.

    “Oh please won’t some strong, authoritarian Daddy come and save us!”

  2. This is a clever move on Letcher’s part, but the reality of his remaining tenure is unlikely to be affected much by it. He was, as Glenn Frey might put it, “already gone.” (At this point, perhaps also even feeling stong.) He’ll be gone long before August of next year. And he probably can’t wait.

    Being Tucson’s City Manager sucks. Basically, two schools of thought pervade the local political thinking on the city’s role in Pima County’s next few decades: (1) Reinvent itself for a sustainable post-sprawl future or (2) tear it down and regionalize its services. Vying for #1 is, invariably, the Council’s liberal majority—and a few piles of smart private money, most of it downtown. Vying for #2 is Chuck Huckelberry, the RTA and the familiar regional array of 20th century empire builders. (Click, Diamond, etc.) Notably, the Arizona Daily Star is squarely on the side of #2. In Tucson, any City Manager is faced with the dilemma of choosing sides. You can either work for the Council, or can work for the shitheads. Either way, you’ll probably get fired.

    To Letcher’s credit, he was loyal to his Council from day one. The newspaper hated him for it, and revved up the already-roaring Rob O’Dell crisis manufacturing machine. Letcher was scorned for problems real and imagined, and his earnest attempts to handle the real ones only enhanced his desirability as a target for blame, wither via Steve Kozachik’s awkward exercises in rookie grandstanding, or Paul Cunningham’s pathetic ones in right-wing bootlicking.

    It’s hard to heap accountability, when truly deserved, on a guy who’s been given so much undeserved grief. And the Parkwise controversy looks as much like a genuine failure of management as last month’s 911 episode looked like an amateurish collaboration between a sleazy council member and a sleazy union leader create a phony crisis. That Letcher deserves to answer for the former, and perhaps not the latter, is too hard to explain. He doesn’t deserve most of the flack he’s taken.

    If anything, he deserves congratulations on a good, sincere effort at doing a nearly impossible job well. And a long vacation.

  3. Bruce J,

    Neither the Star’s Editorial Board, nor the Usual Suspects, have ever pushed for a “strong mayor” form of government. They’ve consistently pushed for the opposite: a strong, appointed manager.

    Last year’s charter change boondoggle, called “Prop. 401,” contained a provision its promoters called “mayoral parity” which would allow the Mayor to vote like a council member in certain situations. This tricked a few people into thinking of it as a move in the “strong mayor” direction. It was not.

    In “strong mayor” systems, the mayor functions as an executive and makes operational decisions for the city. In our “weak mayor” system, that’s the City Manager’s job.

  4. Adding to what bored said there are also a few entrenched department directors with civil service protection that routinely undercut any appointed manager that tries to break down their silos. These same directors have had a hand in the demise of more than one city manager, and their manipulation of council members down to a science.

  5. Chutes has a good point. Civil service protection doesn’t make sense for those who answer directly to the City Manager. But this begs even bigger questions about who, in the city, should be responsible for the appointment and dismissal of public officials.

    You may have noticed that counties are distinct from cities in their deference to democracy. Sheriffs are voted into office, police chiefs aren’t. County attorneys are elected by the people, city attorneys aren’t. As a general rule, smaller jurisdictions tend to have less robust democracies. This trend, over the last century or so, has occurred largely at the behest of business interests, to whom the contribution of “managers” to history belongs in the first place.

    Intuitively, to most folks a “manager” is something that has a more rightful place at Taco Bell than in the halls of government. That’s neither an accident nor an anomaly; the whole “manager” concept, what with its dogmatic bent toward efficiency, profit, etc. is something large electorates know better than to embrace. (Imagine if our Legislature tried to create the appointed position of “State Manager,” or if Congress tried to circumvent some of the President’s authority by creating a “Federal Manager.”)

    Anyway, I’d submit that perhaps these “entrenched department directors,” whose “manipulation of council members” is “down to a science” doesn’t speak to any failure of democracy, if any failure at all. Maybe it speaks to their intelligence and understanding of how the system that employs them, and serves their community, works.

    Maybe this whole “manager” nonsense just doesn’t make sense in serious public administration, and that’s why larger American cities are moving away from it.

  6. This bit from Lechter’s letter says everything that needs to be said:

    “The most troubling concern about the Ward 6 Councilmember’s involvement in this issue was that he was focused primarily on eliminating furloughs for dispatchers and coordinating his own media coverage on the 911/Fire EMS Communication Center. He was not focused on resolving the issues or offering long-term solutions.”

    Similar sentiments could apply to Ray Carroll, Frank Antenori, the Rio Nuevo Board, or, for that matter, the Arizona Daily Star.

  7. I have to disagree there bored phoenix has a city manager and it is one of the largest cities and is considered a very well run government. Its the only way to propose tough solutions for the betterment of the entire organization as opposed to department directors that care about their department and council members that represent narrow interests. Smart members let managers do their job and take the heat so the council members don’t have to make knee jerk political decisions that damage city services.

  8. Ah, the familiar “Phoenix is such a well-run city” line. (Who are you really, Chutes? Jonathan Paton? Lisa Lovallo? Mitt Romney?) Corporate types love to babble about how Phoenix is sooooo well-run. That’s because Phoenix is run less like a city than a Sam’s Club. The Phoenix City Charter, over decades, has been thoroughly rigged by business interests to create as much distance as possible between its voters and its operations.

    In terms of democracy, the City of Phoenix is a joke. It has an ultra-strong manager system, in which the Council is powerless to fire anyone but the manager. A nonpartisan, eight-member council ensures that this is nearly impossible to do. The manager can fire anyone he wants. Anyone. He can fire the police chief. He can fire the city attorney.

    (Think about that a minute.)

    Under the Phoenix charter, the council can’t even create a new position without the manager’s “recommendation.” It almost as though Phoenix’s government regards its council members as a frustrating constitutional formality, and that’s probably how backers of this system feel about elected officials, if not democracy in general.

  9. Wow I must have hit a nerve. As you question who I am I wonder who you are, perhaps an entrenched director? I see no other reason why my polite disagreement provoke such a personally directed attack. You are so wrong its laughable.

    Just like financial markets cities need stability to thrive. You may not like their policies, which I am not advocating for, but they aren’t losing their workforce in droves due to poor decisions.

  10. Dear Mystery Management Expert,

    Sorry to have hurt your feelings. Don’t worry, you didn’t hit a nerve. (Not to be petty or anything, but learning how to use apostrophes will help to enhance your authoritative posture.)

    On the subject of stability, your analogy of markets to democracies is rather telling. I would argue that fairness—not stability—is the lynchpin of either institution. Stability is merely derivative; in the case of either market or democracies, stability derives from the confidence of its participants.

    As for your bit about Phoenix not “losing their workforce in droves due to poor decisions,” I’m at a loss. The fiscal 2011 budget of your beloved Phoenix eliminated nearly 1,400 jobs, from librarians to cops. I’d call that “droves.”

    Please, tell us more about how “well-run” Phoenix is.

  11. Yes they laid off people as opposed to here where people are choosing to leave instead. Big difference. Our city has lost over 1000 folks who wanted to leave and were not forced to. Attack me all you want for its obvious you’ve ridiculously. And erroneously assumed I am with SALC.

    How about you tell me of a major city that has eliminated the manager form of government and as a result have had no budget, leadership or other problems. I at least gave an example for you to pick apart you haven’t done even that.

  12. By the way I hate pyx as a city but I give credit where credit is due and they aren’t on their 7th manager in 20 years.

  13. Seriously though I wonder which director you are because the level of animosity coming from you far exceeds my minor comment about not agreeing with your desired city structure

  14. I have one last disagreement with you bored. Despite that i hate the phx metro (tempe sold its soul) we actually have a lot in common with them. Like ourselves they have a big chunk of the minority population a downtown in need of revitalization and a decaying urban core and a widespread infrastructure to service. They beat os to actual light rail, in airport operations and downtown investment by other institutions.

    Besides, without ethics there is no fairness and that is something we can ask and expect from our public servants.

  15. Sorry for all the smartphone typos bored I am not doing well in meeting your high standards.

  16. I’m going to follow his lead U tell my boss that I quit … efective one year from now. Let’s just see if he can stop me.

  17. I’m going to follow his lead & tell my boss that I quit … efective one year from now. Let’s just see if he can stop me.

    (I don’t know how I got that “U” in my original post. Hopefully, the humor is understood just the same).

  18. Chutes,

    You say that Phoenix is “well run,” but then admit that you hate the place. There seems to be some kind of disconnect here. If Phoenix is really the paradise that you describe, why do you hate it so much?

    It may surprise you that Phoenix has many, many problems that are inconsistent with your rosy assessment. Within a stone’s throe of the State Capitol you can find grinding poverty and neighborhoods far scarrier than anything you can find in Tucson. The fact that the city’s leadership is content to allow this to remain unaddressed is certainly a failure. There have also been numerous shortcomings and failures in their development efforts downtown. I urge you to check out this blog about Phoenix to learn a thing or two:

    The experience of Phoenix with regard to their city manager is not really a good example. Their most recent former manager served for over 20 years, which was considered an unusually long term in office not only in Phoenix or Arizona, but anywhere. Nationally, the average term for a city manager is about 7 years, but in Arizona, much shorter terms are not unprecedented.

    This being said, it seems a little disingenous to call for the dumping of a City Manager, then complain that we have had too many in a short time.

    Of course the real trouble with Phoenix is that elections there are largely a formality, and the Mayor and Council are expected to serve as a rubber stamp for decisions by unelected staff, which is what the SALC charter changes proposed last year would have put into law here. Is that what you want to see here?

  19. Tom who called for the dumping of a city manager I didn’t. Hard to take you seriously when you are off on a basic premise I was calling the directors who play these games to the carpet. But to correct you I am well aware about phx. Do we not have unaddressed grinding poverty here in tucson? Surely you jest. What about “decaying urban core” sounded like a rosy assessment to you? If people weren’t so mired in their dislike they would see we do have a lot in common and we should be learning from each other.

    Ther is s difference between management and policcy formatiom. You keep trying to mar the first with your dislike of the latter which is driven primarily by an elected council. Are you implying that the elections are rigged? Rubberstamp? Proof or speculation? I will forgive you tom for you are deep into the political scene but the vast majority of city workers here and there just want to do the job the best they can with the right tools for the job. They also work side be side over and under people of differing political viewpoints imagine that.

  20. Well, amidst our vigorous discussion, our Council managed to show Letcher the door. Now Dickie Miranda will be the Manager. Probably for longer than you think.


  21. Perhaps. They seem to want to go out for a national search. Kelly gottchalk would be just as good of an interim if the budget was a concern. Dickie is a fine manager but he comes with baggage of his own. Who would expect him to be a tough bargainer with the public safety unions? Same reason Liz miller and hein got into it before the perception of preferential treatment.

  22. Speaking of, I once thought that Liz was going to be city manager eventually. she would have a been a really good one too.

  23. Tucson hasn’t had the best luck with national searches, which have only yielded two managers in the post-Valdez era: Mike Brown and Jim Keene, neither of whom worked out particularly well. Then again, we haven’t had the best luck appointing local people either.

    The ideal candidate must have a strong background in public finance and, more important, an immense respect for the authority of his or her elected bosses. Mike Hein had the former but a cavalier lack of the latter.

    Kelly Gottschalk has the finance background, but does she have the management skills? How well would she have handled Steve Kozachik’s despicable 911 stunts? Liz Miller? I’d be concerned about her loyalties.

    Does Mike Rankin want to be City Manager? (Sometimes I think he secretly already is. Other times I think it’s Karin Uhlich.)

    In all seriousness, we MUST do a national search. And a good one. We now have a rare opportunity to build new, more trusting relationships between the City Council and its bureaucracy, and that’s the only way city government will begin to re-gain the public confidence it so sorely needs.

  24. One last thing, ok?

    Although we need a good manager in the near term, in the long term we must accept that the council-manager system is just dumb. It’s a misguided idea of the early 20th century, intended to de-politicize the operational aspects of municipal governance. In practice, what it has done is create increasingly less accountable bureaucracies, free to do things their communities don’t want and elected officials can’t easily prevent.

    Like I said earlier, a “manager” is something that belongs at Taco Bell, not in the halls of government. If we ever manage to change our City Charter, let’s change it for the better and dump this silly system.

  25. Sorry board I see no reason we should accept your last premise automatically you have provided no compelling arguments or examples to support your assertion. I have seen enough to show that there are equal problems when you have politicians in direct control of departments and services they may not be qualified to run, and the possibility of political favoritism. Looks like it may be trading the frying pan for the fire.

  26. One last thing. Do you really want to pin your hopes on politicians to save us and to do the right thing when running for reelection in a sound bite world?? I sure don’t the thought scares the bejeesus out of me.

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