Friday, April 2, 2010

Mary Suhm's future

I have absolutely no hard solid facts to base this on - it is purely conjecture -  but I just have the feeling that Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm wants to make a dead-solid perfect appointment of a new police chief -- an appointment for the ages -- get through the current budget cycle, see that budget embraced and passed by the City Council and then announce her retirement shortly after the start of the next fiscal year, Oct. 1.

I have mentioned this thought to a few former city officials - both elected and staff - and although all of them said they had not heard a thing that would lead them to make this same prediction, they also said my reasoning makes a lot of sense.

This budget business is going to continue to be more difficult - I would say the hard budget times will last another three, four years - before they get better. Not only that, Suhm lost the Ying to her Yang when Dave Cook retired. This is not meant as a criticism of Jeanne Chipperfield, Cook's replacement as CFO (except that, if possible, she smiles even less than Cook did), but in a strange way the Cook/Suhm melding was almost exactly that - the two coming together as one mind finding solutions to the city's budget woes where the best in the business couldn't locate them. I'm thinking Suhm is already spending some restless days and nights wishing Cook was still there and has no intention of repeating this process for an entire fiscal year without him.

Suhm has been eligible for retirement for three years now. That means she can walk into the sunset and continue to count on her full salary being paid to her through the City's Pension Fund, far more solid than most such funds thanks to careful planning and prudent management. She doesn't need to put up with this grief.

With Da Mayor announcing he probably will seek another term, Suhm is going to feel like she's leaving the city in competent hands for at least five or six more years. Plus, I think she would like the City Council, as it is presently constituted, to select her replacement. (The council will, of course, announce a nationwide search just as it did before Suhm was selected, but the best thing it could do would be to talk Ramon Miguez to returning the city - someway, somehow - although he probably would be foolish to entertain the thought.)

Suhm is getting close to her sell-by date. The average life expectancy of a Dallas city manager is five years and Suhm was appointed city manager in June 2005. Not only that, she has that rare opportunity to walk out on her own terms, with the overwhelming majority of the City Council wishing she would not leave, probably even begging her to remain. That's not the kind of the relationship you usually see between the manager and the council after five years at Dallas City Hall. Right now she would be remembered as the one of the greatest managers - deservedly so - in the city's history. Why take a chance on putting a blemish on that?

So here's my thinking: Mary Suhm (1) names Art Avecedo of Austin as the new police chief, (2) proposes a budget with no tax increases but a lot of severe service cuts, (3) allows the city council to restore many of those cuts with a tax increase (and smiles inwardly as they do it), (4) sees that budget passed by the council and finally (5) announces her retirement.

For those on the council that cringe at the thought of her leaving, here is their trump card: Mary Suhm really does care about the City of Dallas and its future. That's not a posture with her, it's a passion. I could see her assuming a role as a special consultant to the city in some fashion or as the city's official ambassador to other governmental entitities, particularly on the state and national level. In other words, as some sort of City Manager Emeritus, no longer making the day-to-day decisions but certainly influencing some of the more important ones.

Having said all this, I must bring up my track record on predictions - such as Colt McCoy winning the Heisman, Kentucky winning this year's NCAA basketball tournament and Indianapolis winning the Super Bowl. I did predict the Top 6 Oscar winners this past year, though.


Anonymous said...

I think you are correct about Jeanne's dearth of smiles, wrong about Ramon's worthiness as a successor.

Anonymous said...

My fellow Anononymous poster is oh so wrong. Miguez was very much like Dave Cook in his ethics, intelligence and ability to see the long-term impact of decisions. Not sure the other assistant city managers are cut from the same cloth as these two gentlemen. It's a pity that they have both left the city.