Guest Column: Can Hendrix escape Walker's toxic legacy?

The Board of Supervisors on Monday appointed Mike Hendrix, former deputy county manager, as the new county administrator. The Board interviewed only two of the six finalists before voting for Mr. Hendrix. Mike has survived and even thrived under the winter "purge" where the deputy positions were eliminated, when he became acting county administrator. The four deputies were promoted to the new positions in April 2009 and given hefty pay raises. They were all part of "Walker's Team."

Frankly, when you meet Mr. Hendrix for the first time, you can't help but like his calm, friendly demeanor and positive attitude. Speaking with him is a stark contrast to the condescending, abrasive manner of Ron Walker.

The difference between their public personas is like day and night. They couldn't be more opposite in the public's eye.

So how did he remain loyal to Walker, yet establish his own identity?

It's difficult for Mr. Hendrix to distance himself from Walker, when Walker thought so highly of him. Walker strongly encouraged the Board of Supervisors to appoint Mike as Public Works director in October 2002, without the job being published. Walker said, "...there's no need to advertise for the position" and that he "... strongly endorses promoting Mike Hendrix." And the Board unanimously agreed. It's a double-edged sword that Walker was so supportive of him.

After all, who wants Walker as a reference on any job resume? Walker sent Dana Hlavac to that "Good Government" program at Harvard 10 months ago, grooming him as heir apparent. Where is Hlavac now? Do you remember Mike's words: "He's not a good fit on my team?"

Walker's gone, but does his legacy remain? Supervisor Hildy Angius has stated, "The supervisor have been more than clear about our new philosophy for Mohave County ... transparency, fairness, cooperation."

The three new supervisors were elected to their positions precisely because they were committed to "cleaning up" Mohave County government. Mike stated he is committed to that end.

However, two issues arose Monday that threatened to sidetrack that effort. In the Call to the Public, I pointed out that the supervisors' stated policy permitting county employees to speak freely with the supervisors had NOT been communicated to them. In fact, I had heard some department heads told employees that they needed to contact their direct supervisor to arrange for such meetings, AND that Mike Hendrix would attend the meeting. That is not what the Supervisors intended.

Hendrix promptly resolved that issue by offering to send out an e-mail to department heads and division leaders informing them of the change. That is real leadership. I was very pleased that Mike e-mailed out the notice to ALL County employees early Wednesday afternoon. Kudos Mike, that certainly separates you from Walker!

However, my comments at the Board meeting and subsequently in a public forum caused no end of consternation among certain Supervisors. It seems that my comments were causing questions about the direction and transparency the Board strove to project. However, they couldn't be further from the truth. It is fearlessness in the face of criticism, and the willingness to quickly correct any perceived coverups that establish real transparency. Administrator Hendrix admirably displayed both, much to his credit.

The other issue came to light Monday, when I discussed with Mike the various public records requests dating back to December, which have still not been filled. We had a pleasant discussion, after all Mike is polite to a fault - a VERY refreshing change from Walker. Under his "management," obtaining records was more suspenseful than a Columbo episode!

Our discussion revolved around just what constitutes a "public record" and how the records are delivered. Hendrix made two comments that I questioned. First, I asked if they could send some records via e-mail. I was told it was not the "policy" of his office to do so, because he believed I should "have some skin in the game" by paying 20 cents a page for a file that could easily be e-mailed. He then stated that the county is only required to give out "reports" and not other records, such as GPS logs or phone records; but I was getting "special treatment."

There are three problems with his statement: 1. The taxpayers in the county already have skin in the game. 2. The statutes state all public records are available for inspection at any time during office hours. 3. ARS § 41-151.18 describes a public record as virtually ANY document created in the course of government business. That means the people are entitled to see what our government is doing, and are ALREADY paying for that privilege. It's not special treatment, it's the law!

Perhaps this reflects a hangover from Walker's Reign of Error and it will take time to adjust to a new paradigm in his thinking. Mike is a breath of fresh air, but it will take more effort to establish himself as "Anti-Walker" and escape the legacy of "being a good fit." The immortal words of Ronald Reagan loudly resound, "Trust but Verify."