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Two Southern Arizonans selected as Tucson manager finalists

A pair of government officials from Southern Arizona are the last standing after a closed-door process to pick a short list of candidates for Tucson's city manager.

The City Council interviewed candidates Tuesday, meeting in private for more than five hours.

They narrowed their choices to Cochise County Administrator Michael Ortega and Sierra Vista Assistant City Manager Mary Jacobs as finalists for the job.

The two appeared at a Q&A session Tuesday night, where a search consultant reviewed questions from the public before putting them to the pair of candidates.

Also interviewed in private by the Council were Tolleson City Manager Reyes Medrano, Jr. and El Paso Deputy City Manager Jane Shang. Neither was named to the final list.

Tucson officials have refused to release the full list of 48 candidates who were considered. City Hall sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Albert Elias, Tucson's assistant city manager, had thrown his name into the hat but that the Council had declined to interview him for the job.

Sources also said that some candidates had withdrawn their names from consideration, with suggestions that they did not approve of the process used by the city to vet those interested in becoming the top unelected official in Tucson.

About 50 citizens and city staffers attended the two-hour meeting Tuesday, although attendance dwindled as the evening wore on.

Speaking mainly in generalities, both Ortega and Jacobs responded to a series of questions filtered by the city's search consultant. With the finalists only having been announced shortly before the meeting, the questions from the audience were rarely specific to the candidates, instead focusing on broader topics such as process and priorities.

Ortega, a Douglas native who has been the Cochise County administrator for seven years, said he would favor of three-year plan to right Tucson's municipal budget. He said a combination of targeted cuts, one-time revenue boosts and recapitalizing some debt is in order.

While acknowledging that he had not read the entire 248-page document, Ortega repeatedly referred to Plan Tucson, the strategic plan approved by voters in 2013, saying it should guide decision-making.

Interviewed briefly after the public session, Ortega said that despite his having announced his upcoming retirement from his Cochise position, he's eager to "find new challenges."

"I'd like to go where I can serve," he said.

Jacobs repeatedly referenced her Tucson roots. A native, she attended the University of Arizona (as did Ortega). She has been the assistant city manager of Sierra Vista for 15 years.

Tucson should focus on transportation infrastructure and attracting tourists, she said.

"You don't get a chance to work for your hometown very often in my line of work," she said after the meeting. "I'd love to be working in Tucson."

Both potential city CEOs pointed to the state of Tucson's roads, with Ortega drawing a broad laugh from attendees with a mention of driving down Grant Road to get to the meeting.

A citizens committee named to have public input on the next manager will have their only meeting with candidates Wednesday morning. The Council will then meet Wednesday, again behind closed doors, to discuss the two finalists.

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A vote to hire the new manager could come Wednesday afternoon.

Despite being pressed to release the full list of candidates under Arizona's public records law, city officials have declined. The city hired an outside consultant, Bob Murray & Associates of Roseville, Calif., to conduct a national search for candidates.

That consultant reviewed the initial pool of applicants, forwarding 12 candidates to the Council. Of those, six were invited to interviews. Two declined, and the Council interviewed the remaining four candidates on Tuesday.

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3 comments on this story

3
343 comments
Mar 11, 2015, 7:28 pm
-0 +0

Another reason why this idiotic and undemocratic system of governance has got to go. It is not right that someone is not elected will make decsions on whether or not to cut services.

2
13 comments
Mar 11, 2015, 5:30 pm
-0 +1

A national search and all they could come up with is two from Cochise County?  The whole process was flawed and they should just scrap it and start again.  Give the citizen committe more than 20 minutes to review the applicants and let them review the candidate BEFORE the council narrows it down, or just make a decision without a phony “public” process. 
But really, who expected this show to be on the level anyway?

1
193 comments
Mar 10, 2015, 8:27 pm
-1 +2

OMG, just what we need. Knee jerk right wingers from Cochise County.
Moving from the beginning to the middle of the end of Tucson.

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Ortega and Jacobs