Posts Tagged ‘Keene’

2nd April
2009
written by JHiggins

CALIFORNIA DREAMING

Tucson City Manager James Keene has told Mayor Bob Walkup and the city council to “take this job and shove it,” calling it quits after four years in the top post.

Is this a case of Keene walking before they make him run?

Keene is telling the media that the move is purely for personal reasons–he’s got family back in Northern California, near where he’ll be working as exec director for the Sacramento-based California State Association of Counties. (This lobbying organization somehow got called a “think tank” in early reports from City Hall. Think tank? Perhaps there’s a lot of thinking that goes into deciding what drinks will be included in the next round as the yokel county officials git a little lobbyin’ done in Sacramento.)

Contrary to the constant rumors he was interviewing elsewhere, Keene insists that he wasn’t even looking for work until he got a call from a headhunter inviting him to apply.

But it has been a rocky tenure for Keene. Three Democrats–Steve Leal, José Ibarra and Shirley Scott–shopped for a fourth vote to fire him midway through his tenure. And this year, he had several high-profile screw-ups, including the botched relocation of downtown’s Greyhound Bus terminal and the disastrous stab at using water hook-ups to extort pre-annexation agreements from developers in the Rincon Valley.

The water fight was an especially humiliating experience for Keene, with a majority of council members complaining that the manager slipped his plans past them in the fine print of a five-page memo. After Tucson Water officials surprised developers with a demand that they agree to sign away their future customers’ right to reject annexation by the city, all hell broke loose. The ensuing chaos–which included crowds of angry Vail residents packing the council chambers to tell them to stay the hell out of their neighborhood–left the city’s water policy in shambles and the annexation atmosphere more poisoned than ever.

Even Keene supporter Carol West, an eastside Democrat, says the water-for-annexation affair was handled horribly. And Republican Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar, who repeatedly clashed with Keene during the fiasco, made it pretty clear Keene was on her last nerve.

By the time Dunbar was talking tough, though, we’re told Keene had flipped at least one of his earlier detractors, so he wasn’t in any immediate danger of being axed. Still, the whole ugly episode must have made another offer pretty tempting.

In his new job, Keene can now help another former Berkeley city manager who failed (for different reasons) at Tucson City Hall. The explosive Michael F. Brown, who recently received a short extension to his contract, is the manager of Santa Barbara County.

While he lacked Brown’s nasty temper, Keene was just arrogant enough to alienate members of the city council and to construe the city charter’s provisions for a strong city manager as a mandate to run roughshod over elected officials. Who could blame him? He’s definitely smarter than most of the council members.

While Keene had monumental failures like the transportation sales tax and picked stupid fights with the media and County Manager Chuck Huckelberry, he helped to modernize most city departments and to ring the bell that Tucson can no longer just float year to year while draining reserve funds and letting the streets crumble.

Who’s in line? Assistant Managers Benny Young and Liz Rodriguez Miller will top some lists and then flare or flame out. Albert Elias, now attempting the job of planning director, can relax and keep his salon appointments. That leaves David Modeer, the director and television pitchman for Tucson Water. He’s a big favorite of Walkup’s.

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