AS A DEPUTY manager for Pima County, Bruce Postil was given neither to flash nor pretense.
He was funny, helpful and direct. Painfully direct.
Handed the assignment of overseeing the county's sprawling health system, including chronically overspent Kino Community Hospital, Postil showed his bosses on the Board of Supervisors that the unmanageable could in fact be managed.
Ten years ago, he shed the county of its expensive contract with Kino's ineffective management, the troubled Hospital Corp. of America. He pared wildly excessive annual mental health care bills of $14 million to several million dollars. He brought in experienced, innovative managers with special expertise in indigent health care -- Schaller Anderson -- to operate Kino. He beefed up services and cut costs so that Kino broke even and so the overarching health system actually put money back into the county's general fund.
And for the dimmest of supervisors as well as unfamiliar taxpayer, Postil made it all understandable, appearing at budget hearings in a Hawaiian shirt not with boring reports or slides but with his Wheel of Money that helped his bosses finally understand how the county could use the multiple streams of money and circulate them within its health system to keep it from losing money. Finally, following supervisors' direction, Postil lined up the complicated work to set up a spin-off of Kino as a non-profit safe from county political sabotage.
That was seven years and about $60 million ago. For his accomplishments, which have not been remotely approached since, Postil was canned during the county coup concocted by Republican Supervisors Ed Moore, Mike Boyd and Paul Marsh in the waning weeks of 1992. The hammer fell on January 5, 1993, when Postil, closing in on 20 years with the county, and 12 other county officials were fired or demoted when Moore's majority snatched control from Democrats Dan Eckstrom and Raul Grijalva.
Postil and five others hung together, though, and filed suit against Moore & Co. in U.S. District Court for tortuous interference, defamation and wrongful termination.
And three years ago -- on December 12 -- Postil's group was awarded a combined $3 million in a settlement.
Now facing legal requirements to finally erase the Kino and health system debts, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is looking to Postil again. Postil will examine Kino, which lost $14 million in the last fiscal year, and the debt-ridden health system to make recommendations to Huckelberry and the Board of Supervisors.
Under pressure from state officials and the County Attorney's Office, supervisors were forced in August to boost property taxes by 11 percent to raise enough money to begin a three-year buy-down of the Kino debt.
The 55-year-old Postil, who has managed his investments (including real estate holdings) since his firing, also will serve as a consultant to the county on its baseball operations at Tucson Electric Park, with both Major League spring training and the AAA Sidewinders. Despite refinancing its construction debt to reduce annual payments by about $900,000 to $3.5 million, the stadium and spring training complex is teetering. Postil's task will be to boost revenues from a variety of sources.
He will be paid $125 an hour, up to $20,000 for any single month, for up to six months.
Supervisors recently voted to accede to the Campoy Commission's request to hire a team of consultants from PricewaterhouseCoopers for $210,000. They followed a review by Arthur Andersen.
Postil, Huckelberry says, "is uniquely qualified for this assignment."
But the appointment raised hackles from the Grijalva camp. Sylvia Campoy, Grijalva's ally who heads the Health Care Commission, is furious that her panel was not consulted first and is trying to block Postil's assignment.
She sent a McCarthy-esque memo, with accusation and innuendo spanning four pages that betrayed material that was lifted from the County Administrator's Offices. In her memo, Campoy complained "the consultant is also being provided with County office space per the provision requiring the consultant to be physically present at County offices to perform the duties."
That provision, according to Huckelberry, was in an early version of the contract -- a version never released. The provision was stricken at the request of Postil, who has entered the computer age after spending years answering memos and letters with economy -- in brief sentences written on top of the orginals.
Included in Campoy's bitter complaints was the suggestion that Postil may be too political.
"Moreover, it has been reported to me that the proposed contractor may have been or is a contributor of substantial amounts to various supervisors' campaigns," Campoy wrote.
Indeed, before the supervisors in 1992 banned candidates for any county office -- including supervisor -- from hitting up county employees or accepting contributions from employees, Postil gave to Grijalva. And he contributed to the 1995 City Council campaign of Grijalva's protege, José Ibarra.
Postil and his wife also contributed in 1996 to the campaign of Grijalva's ally, Sharon Bronson, who wrested the largely rural District 3 seat from Moore.
Campoy's complaints were not enough to put a dent in the Board's 5-0 vote to hire Postil on Tuesday, December 7.
Another set of odd objections to the Postil contract came from Pete Pearman, a deputy county attorney who serves as an adviser to the Board of Supervisors.
Pearman bitched that he had to sign off approval of the contract, which runs only five pages, in a day rather than having what he said is a customary three days.
Pearman also accused Huckelberry of circumventing county by not having the Campoy Commission approve the contract and because the contract was not "developed" by the Health System CEO Karen Fields, a dietician who was put in charge of the system when Campoy forced out Dr. Richard Carmona.
"Your statements" Huckelberry told Pearman, "regarding this contract being rushed through the system are surprising since I believe it is you who has championed the position that the county must do something and do so immediately regarding the deteriorating fiscal condition of the county caused primarily by the health care system accumulating deficit."
"I felt it was imperative that we have the counsel and advice of an individual who has successfully operated the health care system, managed and curtailed the growth in its deficit," Huckelberry said.
Neither the commission nor Fields had to approve the contract because Postil is not supervising any employees or providing any type of direct health care, Huckelberry told Pearman.
Pearman also complained that Postil was selected for a contract that may exceed $25,000 -- Huckelberry's limit -- without competitive bid.
His complaint underscores bias and hypocricy, according to several county officials who were not amused by Pearman's 11th-hour meddling. His own office routinely hires contract attorneys, most of whom are former deputy county attorneys, to work at taxpayer expense on county cases. Indeed, when Postil's group sued, Pearman's office had no problem hiring Moore's personal friend, Larry Schubart, to defend the county. Schubart, a land-use lawyer with virtually no employment law experience, had previously loaned Moore money. His bills exceeded $600,000.
As he nears retirement, Pearman has taken on a peculiar and aggressive interest in county management, one high county official said.
"Pete has made himself the regularity police," the official said.
As to Postil's work and the clash it sets with the hyper-territorial Campoy Commission, the official said with a note of relish: "It's going to get ugly."