Tales from the Morgue: Pima County hires Chuck Huckelberry as manager

2014-01-12T00:00:00Z 2014-01-22T15:00:35Z Tales from the Morgue: Pima County hires Chuck Huckelberry as managerJohanna Eubank Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 12, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is nearing his 20th anniversary on the job. Let's take a look back to his hiring.

From the Arizona Daily Star, March 7, 1994:

Supervisors to name new administrator; Huckelberry expected to get permanent job

Chris Limberis
Arizona Daily Star

Chuck Huckelberry has held several jobs in his 20 years with Pima County, ranging from engineer to interim county administrator.

The Board of Supervisors will vote tomorrow to give Huckelberry permanent status as county administrator.

The move officially scraps the national search Republican Chairman Mike Boyd insisted on having when Huckelberry was brought in three months ago to replace Manoj Vyas.

"I advocated a national search then because I did not think there was a local candidate not beholden to one supervisor," Boyd said. "However, it's obvious that Mr. Huckelberry is able to get along with all supervisors. He's not carrying anyone's water or, rather, he's carrying all our water."

Boyd credits Huckelberry with stabilizing the bureaucracy that he said was badly shaken by Vyas and his many reorganizations.

For Supervisors Raul Grijalva and Dan Eckstrom, Democrats who worked with Huckelberry in their previous term, Huckelberry has been a welcome change if only because he has restored the access to his office and staff that Vyas had cut off.

"He's been treating our office and Dan's office with a degree of equality and respect that's a real change," Grijalva said.

The Democrats consistently criticized Vyas for answering only the Republican majority -- Boyd, Ed Moore and Paul Marsh - that put him in office 14 months ago.

And Grijalva and Eckstrom said they never believed the county would start a national search - the second since 1989 - to get a top administrative officer.

"I really don't think there was ever any intent to have that process," Eckstrom said.

"The idea of a national search - it didn't have a lot of feeling behind it," Grijalva said. " I was more concerned with removing Manoj from authority."

Vyas remains. He took a $50,000-a-year pay cut to $55,000 and now works on special projects.

Huckelberry will likely get at least $121,000 a year, under a contract to be presented to supervisors today. The contract also will force full payoff of his salary if supervisors fire him before the end of 1996.

Only Moore is opposed to giving Huckelberry a contract.

Few are surprised that Huckelberry's three-month performance won him support for the permanent assignment.

His three-month list of credits includes:

* Resolving several disputes with Democratic Assessor Alan Lang. Huckelberry has boosted administrative control over the Assessor's Office. While the Republicans and Grijalva conducted controversial hearings on Lang, Huckelberry minimized the circus atmosphere by keeping the assessor and county employees from sitting in purely for entertainment.

Huckelberry restricted attendance to only those people subpoenaed or involved. At one point, Huckelberry announced those who had testified must return to work.

* Mediating a pay raise battle with Sheriff's Department deputies and offering a compromise package that was approved last week.

* Preparing a plan to end the fight over the county's Municipal Property Corp. bond projects.

Huckelberry found ways to save the projects, including the Kino Recreation Center, while satisfying Moore's demand that they not be built with bonds voters had not approved.

* Alerting supervisors with a seven-month financial report that a one-time $20 million surplus had been drained and that spending could no longer outpace revenues if future deficits were to be avoided.

Huckelberry said last week that his budget for the 1994-95 fiscal year that begins July 1 is based on zero growth. Record construction will not appear on tax rolls for a year or two, he said.

* Devising a plan to evaluate the county Department of Environmental Quality's new air quality laws.

Huckelberry, 44, joined the old county highway department 20 years ago and at 29 became the youngest department head in county history. He has left his mark on nearly every county project, from roads and bridges to buildings and parks.

Along the way, he has earned praise from neighborhood activists and environmentalists, business leaders and developers.

He has been down this road before.

In 1989, he was in line to be interim manager and likely the new county manager when Jim Riley was eased out. Huckelberry had a majority sewn up through the weekend preceding the board meeting.

But by the time roll was called, Huckelberry's votes had evaporated and a fellow assistant county manager, Jane Verner, got the interim job.

Last year, Huckelberry was passed over by the Republican majority when it fired County Manager Enrique Serna and appointed Vyas to marshal a sweeping reorganization plan.

Vyas demoted Huckelberry and cut his pay from $101,000 a year to $85,000. Huckelberry lasted less than four months as head of capital projects in the Vyas regime before resigning to join a private engineering consulting company.

He was bitterly disappointed with Vyas' administration but praised the county work force as "one of the most competent, dedicated and loyal government staffs in Arizona."

Huckelberry is a career public service employee who gave up a lucrative job with Shell Oil after graduating with bachelor's and master's degrees in mining and civil engineering from the University of Arizona. He quickly abandoned the engineering firm last year to head Metro Water.

Even while away from county government, Huckelberry continued to respond to questions from all supervisors.

As we all know, the county did indeed give Huckelberry the job. From the Star, March 9, 1994:

Huckelberry named manager; salary put off

Chris Limberis
Arizona Daily Star

The Board of Supervisors appointed Chuck Huckelberry as Pima County manager yesterday but delayed action on his $121,000-a-year contract for one week.

It was a case of two supervisors, Republicans Ed Moore and Paul Marsh, defeating three, Democrats Dan Eckstrom and Raul Grijalva and Republican Board Chairman Mike Boyd.

Moore and Marsh wanted to hold off approval of Huckelberry's contract, which calls for immediate payoff if he is fired before the end of 1996. And although Moore and Marsh would have lost by a 3-2 vote, Boyd acceded to their demand and postponed approval of the contract.

Boyd, a strong Huckelberry backer, complained that 24 hours was not enough time to review Huckelberry's contract. Supervisors had one day to read the contract, which consists of two pages and one paragraph.

Moore said he read it and objected because it didn't contain performance standards. And Moore said he and Marsh discussed the contract privately and that Marsh had concerns about the provision that allows Huckelberry to tap into the vacation and sick time accumulated during his earlier employment. Huckelberry is a 20-year-county official who returned in December as interim county administrator after an eight-month hiatus.

Marsh said the annual salary was too high, noting that former County Administrator Manoj Vyas made $105,000 and pointed out that supervisors last week ratified Huckelberry's spending freeze.

Grijalva said Huckelberry's contract is "reasonable given the tenor of the times."

The Democrats said they were concerned about what Moore would extract from Huckelberry this week in exchange for his support.

"With regard to performance criteria, I have no problem putting in the motion that one of the performance criteria (be) that Mr. Huckelberry assures us that he will on a daily basis suck up to Mr. Moore," Eckstrom said.

With Huckelberry in a sort of limbo, Moore attacked the county's Department of Environmental Quality, forcing an unadvertised hearing on the agency that is under attack at the Legislature and from some local businesses. They allege unfair and uneven enforcement of rules that exceed state and federal standards.

County laws prohibit supervisors from interfering in management decisions that are the domain of the manager or administrator, as in the organizational structure of the DEQ.

But when Marsh left the meeting without explanation, Moore lost any support to move the department under control of the Health Department and Board of Health.

Moore also was alone in his attempt to have the board support legislation that would limit the county's ability to regulate industry and monitor compliance of environmental laws.

Moore forced another lengthy, unadvertised public hearing on local enforcement of the Brady gun bill.

Supervisors allowed Moore to use about three hours yesterday for his two issues.

On March 15, 1994, the board approved Huckelberry's contract. The article ran March 16, 1994:

Board OKs Lang bond, Huckelberry contract

Chris Limberis
Arizona Daily Star

The Board of Supervisors yesterday accepted a $250,000 bond posted by Assessor Alan Lang, the Democrat several supervisors wanted to force from office.

Supervisors also voted 3-2 to approve a $121,000-a-year contract with Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. Republicans Ed Moore and Paul Marsh voted against the contract.

While there was no dissent on the Lang vote, Democratic Supervisor Dan Eckstrom abstained and also did not participate in the secret discussion the board had with special counsel S.L. Schorr before voting.

Eckstrom refused to join the board's unprecedented hearings into Lang's operation of the Assessor's Office.

Those hearings concluded Feb. 10, when the board's Republican majority demanded that Lang post an additional $150,000 bond that Republican supervisors said was needed to cover potential costs of claims arising from Lang's personnel management.

Supervisor Raul Grijalva, the Democrat who participated in the hearings but voted against the higher bond, joined the Republicans yesterday.

Moore prodded the board's probe of Lang. He used a territorial law that gives supervisors the right to force the county's other elected officials to make a report. But that report was blown into six days of hearings.

Critics said it was a waste of money. Taxpayers will pay Schorr's firm, Lewis and Roca, about $100,000 and Lang's lawyer, Stanton Bloom, about $35,000.

Taxpayers also pay the $1,500 premium for Lang's new bond, which was meant to supplement the $100,000 bond he had since taking office last year.

Moore said repeatedly that he was "trying to protect taxpayers" with the investigation of Lang and the order for an additional bond. But he also was seeking to use the maneuver to oust Lang if Lang failed to come up with the bond. And Republican board Chairman Mike Boyd also said the investigation was intended to force Lang out of office.

Both Moore and Lang are targets of a recall drive that has less than a month to produce the required petitions.

"I guess they think that it was worth it," Bloom said after the vote. "After all that, they put their tail between their legs and voted 4-0."

Huckelberry, a 20-year county executive, waited a week to have his contract approved, but became the highest-paid chief administrative officer for Pima County. Marsh and Moore wanted to limit Huckelberry to $105,000 a year, which is what Manoj Vyas was paid until he was removed in December. Former County Manager Enrique Serna, ousted by the Republican majority in January 1993, received $113,000 a year.

Huckelberry oversees 6,000 workers and a $606 million budget. City Manager Mike Brown, who is paid $120,000 annually, oversees 4,800 employees and a $530 million budget.

Moore and Marsh complained yesterday that Huckelberry's contract was one-sided.

Moore's proposal would have given Huckelberry a bonus if he devised budget cuts or a property tax cut. But the proposal was so vague that Huckelberry could get a bonus if his tax cut left the county with a deficit.

In other matters during the seven-hour meeting, supervisors:

* Voted 3-2, with Boyd and Grijalva dissenting, to preserve three buildings at Agua Caliente Regional Park. The vote saves the main house, workers' cottage and bunkhouse.

* Approved a law aimed at reducing false alarms. Sheriff's Capt. Martha Cramer said that false alarms account for one in 10 calls to the Sheriff's Department. False alarms cost the county more than $170,000 last year, and of 10,251 alarm calls in 1992, 10,027 were false. Causes, Cramer said, include pets, wind, relatives or workers and mechanical problems.

Fines can be imposed on those who have at least five false alarms in a year.

* Rejected on a 4-1 vote two sets of animal control laws that were proposed to reduce dog and cat overpopulation and to tighten regulations on at-large dogs and cleanup of dog waste. Only Grijalva supported the laws, which Republicans derided as government overkill.

* Sent back a proposed law that would allow importation of waste from other counties. Although county landfills receive garbage from communities in Pinal and Cochise counties, supervisors last year voted to ban any imported waste.

And the rest is history.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About this blog

"Tales from the Morgue" is a way for the Star to share stories from the treasure trove of information held in its old files.

Johanna Eubank, aka the Morgue Lady, was a research assistant in the Star Library — also known as News and Research Services — for 18 years before becoming an online content producer. She has had her share of sneezing fits after digging into dusty old files, so she's sure to find a few old stories to re-examine.

If you have suggestions, comments or questions about this blog, e-mail jeubank@tucson.com

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