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Tom says goodbye to Mike Hein, certain we will miss him more than he’ll miss us

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Mike Hein is leaving Tucson. I, for one, am going to miss him. If you won't, you're on Regina Romero's side of the line.

Mike's wife, Anne-Marie Russell, is leaving her job as executive director of the Tucson Museum of Contemporary Art to become director of an art museum in Florida. Mike, who apparently really enjoys Anne-Marie's company, has decided to go with her. They'll be moving to Sarasota, which is Spanish for Death, Plus Humidity.

He's been working for the past few years as Pima County's director of the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. For his sake, I hope he got paid by the letter. It was a job he was good at, although I'm not certain that it was the one he wanted. When he got unceremoniously booted out of his job as Tucson city manager by a small-minded majority of the clown coven known as the Tucson City Council, he expressed concern that he wouldn't be able to find anything challenging to do.

He told me, "I just hope I don't become the kind of bureaucrat I've always despised—come in late, take a long lunch, leave early, play a lot of golf and get paid way too much." He said that straight-faced, as though there is more than one kind of bureaucrat.

I first met Mike because of basketball. He's a surprisingly good player, considering he's on the dark side of 40. Good three-pointer, behind-the-back dribble, the occasional good pass. Oh, let's be honest; it's the occasional pass.

He's actually a rarity. There aren't a whole lot of people who make six figures who play basketball. The game is so ... egalitarian. There's all that sweating and some of it even gets on other people. Folks above the six-figure range play tennis or golf, squash or polo. (I'm just kidding about polo. Nobody really plays polo. Rich people just like to talk about it so they can say the word "chukker" out loud. It's so almost-naughty.)

Hein has been a fixture in Southern Arizona government for a quarter-century. In the early 1990s, he was management analyst and director of economic development for South Tucson. From there, he moved to Nogales, where he worked for the city in finance and planning and then for Santa Cruz County as an assistant county administrator. He then moved back north where he was assistant town manager and then-town manager for Marana.

Pima County Overlord Chuck Huckleberry recognized Mike's quick mind and technical savvy and grabbed him up as deputy Pima County administrator. His rise was linear and meteoric. Alas, he had no Daedalus to warn him about flying too close to the sun. Off in the distance, he saw that job, the one with the sign that said, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter into this position." He read it as, "Do you think you're the one?"

It was a crappy job with a crappy salary, one overseen by a crappy City Council. It came with daunting financial problems and an entrenched, bloated city bureaucracy that made the cigar-chomping fat cats in Eastern cities seem like transients on uppers. Have you ever heard Steve Martin's old routine about "cruel shoes?" Even though (or perhaps because) the cruel shoes come with 90-degree bends and razor blades in the toes, some women are driven to say, "I must have them!"

There are coaches who are compelled by an inner fire to leave the cushy position with the pump primed and winning teams lined up for as far as the eye can see to go take over a lousy program with bad facilities, shaky management, and dismal prospects. They believe to their soul that they are the only ones who can pull off a miracle and raise that program from the dead.

Being a city or county manager is an extra-tricky proposition in that one serves at the pleasure of a fickle group of often self-absorbed, petty and mega-fickle politicians. Emil Franzi once told a story about a county manager somewhere in the Midwest who suffered a breakdown. When a friend of his was asked what had happened, the friend explained that every month the governing council would vote on whether to retain him in his job. "And every month the vote was four-to-three in his favor."

When asked why that was a problem, the friend explained, "It was never the same four."

Some of the council members bristled at Mike's suggestions to address an $80 million budget shortfall in 2009. Hein recommended that the council consider layoffs, spending cuts, and temporary revenue enhancements through a combination of taxes and/or fees. This was considered blasphemy. I mean, how are we going to pay for public art in drainage ditches and underpasses?

I'm sure he'll find something to do in Florida, which is the land of shady real-estate deals and Carl Hiaasen novels. He leaves behind a city of unfulfilled promise and a name that will forever be linked to the start of the degrading of the position of city manager. After Hein, there was this one guy (I think he was African-American), then another guy who might have been Latino, then some other person of undetermined gender and ethnicity, and now some guy from Douglas.

I get the feeling that I'm going to miss Mike more than he misses us.

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