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Lesher named acting Pima County administrator with Huckelberry still out after crash

'Check yourself!' Tempers flare between Christy & Heinz over plans for top spot in local gov't

Longtime Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is still recovering from an October crash, and the Board of Supervisors formalized choosing Jan Lesher to act in his stead, with a unanimous vote to appoint her as the acting county administrator despite a clash between two of the supervisors.

Lesher, the chief deputy to Huckelberry for several years, has been filling the role of the county's top non-elected official since Huckelberry was injured when a car crashed into him while he was riding his bike on Oct. 23.

The supervisors took the formal action to place her in the top spot, at least on an acting basis, to "ensure the continuity of county operations and to remove any ambiguity about her authority." The title underscores Lesher's ability to sign documents and act with the full authority of the county administrator, officials said.

"Huckelberry remains in a medical facility recovering from his injuries and there is no estimate yet on when he may return to work," county officials said.

Huckelberry, 72, endured broken ribs, a punctured lung and a brain injury in the October crash. He was released from intensive care in Banner University Medical Center last month, but still requires treatment. His wife, Maureen Huckelberry, has released few details about his prognosis, but has said he was making "slow but steady progress" and receiving physical therapy and other care.

Lesher said she looks forward to Huckelberry's return, adding that he has ample accrued leave to cover his convalescence. If he is away from work so long that he approaches the limit of his paid leave, "County Human Resources will review with him and his family appropriate changes to his employment status in accordance with the terms of his employment contract," officials said.

"The board and everyone else in Pima County government want Chuck to know they miss him terribly, that we are heartened by reports of his continued progress, and that we send him our best wishes for a complete recovery and return to work as county administrator," Lesher said in a news release.

The move to give Lesher the "acting" title was separately put on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting of the county board by Sups. Sharon Bronson and Matt Heinz.

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Bronson, the board chair, submitted her agenda item first. Heinz, also an elected Democrat, expanded on his reasons for calling for the move, saying that "hile we all continue to pray and hope for a full recovery (by Huckelberry), it is apparent that such a recovery will not be speedy."

"As his wife, Maureen, has noted, the Huckelberry family is taking it day by day and is rightfully focused 100 percent on his care and recovery," Heinz included in the agenda. "Moreover, as our community learned all too well in 2011 after the terrible attack on Congresswoman Giffords and her constituents, brain injuries are complex, and their short- and long-term consequences hard to fully understand without the benefit of time."

Heinz suggested during the 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.

"Those things need to start happening in parallel" with giving Lesher more authority and waiting for more information on Huckelberry, he said.

Both Heinz and the sole Republican on the board, Supervisor Steve Christy, opposed keeping Huckelberry — who's been in his office since 1993 — on at the beginning of the year.

But Christy said that Heinz's call to look at possible succession procedures was "very insensitive.... totally inappropriate."

"It's way too early" and the statements showed a "real lack of sensitivity," said the GOP supervisor, who has run for office in part on a platform of ousting Huckelberry from county leadership.

Heinz shot back that it's "incredibly insensitive of us as a board to expect a man who's 72 who's flown through the the air after being struck at over 20 miles an hour and landed on his head, to be resuming his normal duties on our behalf — at all, and certainly not quickly."

"So the people who are being insensitive right now are folks who expect him to be able to do work in this condition — it's not fair to him, and it's not fair to the residents of the county, to make that kind of ridiculous expectation. I do have a medical background," said Heinz, who works as a doctor in a local hospital.

"I respect your medical background, but I still find it ghoulish," said Christy.

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"Any more ghoulish than encouraging people to get COVID," fired back Heinz, in a reference to Christy's opposition to public health mandates such as requiring masks in public and county workers to get their COVID-19 vaccinations.

"Seriously, check yourself. Check yourself!," Heinz said.

"Gentlemen, let's be civil," Bronson said, and quickly pushed the motion through without calling for a voice vote. "Are there any objections? Hearing none, motion carries."

Lesher, a Tucson native, has worked for Pima County since 2010 and as chief deputy county administrator since 2017. She previously worked as chief of staff for the Department of Homeland Security, as chief of staff of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, and director of the Arizona Commerce Department.

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Dec 8, 2021, 6:53 am
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I am an outsider, rarely respond ,but have noticed that Christy is just a bully, POS.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Lesher at the formal reopening of the Historic Pima County Courthouse in November.