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Huckelberry retiring after 29 years as Pima County administrator

After three decades as the most powerful political player in Southern Arizona, Chuck Huckelberry — still recovering from a vehicle crashing into his bicycle last fall — is hanging up his Dictaphone and retiring as Pima County's top administrator.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors is set to accept his resignation at a meeting Tuesday morning.

Jan Lesher, the acting head bureaucrat for the county, may be appointed to the permanent position at that meeting.

The addition to those items to Tuesday's agenda comes quickly on the heels of Huckelberry's family talking about his "eagerness to return to work."

Huckelberry, 72, has been on medical leave since being knocked off his bike while riding Downtown in October, when a vehicle crashed into him. He had a serious head injury, punctured lung and broken ribs, and was hospitalized for nearly a month before being moved to a physical rehabilitation facility.

Details about his condition have been closely held for months, but Huckelberry was released and returned home in January, receiving treatment as he continues to recover.

Details about Huckelberry's resignation were not immediately released. Mark Evans, the chief spokesman for the county, deferred comment to Ted Schmidt, Huckelberry's attorney.

Schmidt told the Tucson Sentinel that Huckelberry had spoken with Supervisor Sharon Bronson, the chair of the Board of Supervisors, by phone, to submit his resignation. No formal letter has been sent to county officials, he told the Sentinel on Friday morning.

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Huckelberry has been "getting better, remarkably so; he wants to get back to work," Schmidt said. "But it's time to face the music. He's not able to return right now (because of his injuries). That's likely not ever going to happen."

"It's in the best interest of the county to lift the cloud of this recovery" and let the Board and county administration move ahead, Schmidt said.

Huckelberry "continues with therapy" and "has a positive attitude, which is a real plus for his recovery," the attorney said.

But, Schmidt said, he had a "very traumatic brain injury" and often has trouble communicating and processing information. "But he has moments of lucidity, you'd swear he never had an injury."

Huckelberry was riding "fully in the bike lane and wearing a helmet" on October 23 when he was thrown off his bike when a vehicle attempted a left-hand turn from the right lane of Congress Avenue, and hit the rear of west-bound Jeep in the left lane, sending that vehicle up on two wheels, when it "bumped the rear tire of Chuck's bike."

"He never knew what hit him" the attorney said.

Just Wednesday, two days before Bronson added accepting the county administrator's retirement to the agenda for Tuesday's meeting, Huckelberry's family issued a press release via the county, saying they had "good news."

"He is in great health and speaks often about his eagerness to return to work," they said in a written statement. "As we all know, Chuck is a very strong, positive, and optimistic person, so it is not hard to understand that his improvement has led him to express to friends and county coworkers a desire to return to work at the county. However, his doctors say that, while his optimism is a plus in his recovery, he should focus on his continued dedicated work with his therapists. His care team and family will continue to assess his recovery and evaluate when a return to work might be possible. Thank you to all who continue to send us your prayers and concerns for Chuck’s health."

Supervisor Matt Heinz in early December suggested during a meeting that county officials should be directed to review potential plans for conducting a "national search" for a new county administrator, in case Huckelberry cannot return to work.

That proposal was shot down by the other supervisors, including by Supervisor Steve Christy, who has been a long-time opponent of Huckelberry. The Republican said that Democrat Heinz's suggestion was "ghoulish."

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Friday, Heinz said he wanted to "thank Chuck for his service and dedication to this community. Over his 29 years in the post, Chuck has been one of the most effective administrators in the history of Arizona."

"From the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan to his namesake Loop, steering the county through the pandemic, and so much more, Chuck’s leadership and vision has guided southern Arizona and we owe him a debt of gratitude," Heinz said. "Even though this is not at all how Chuck wanted to retire, I hope he will enjoy his new-found time with family and friends as he continues his recovery, and I look forward to seeing the new ways he chooses to contribute to our community."

"I have complete confidence that Pima County is well positioned to navigate this transition under Jan Lesher’s capable leadership," Heinz said.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Huckelberry at a 2019 Board of Supervisors' meeting.


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