Mike Hutchinson has held the title of Mesa's city manager for five years, but he's been deeply involved in running this burgeoning municipality for nearly 30. Even as former City Manager Chuck Luster's assistant for 19 years, Hutchinson was the one in the public eye much of the time, as Luster preferred to pull the administrative levers from behind the curtain.
So when Hutchinson retires at the end of the year, he will leave a deep and indelible mark on Mesa. And for the most part it's an impressive mark for which he can be proud and the public can be grateful.
Like Luster, Hutchinson's top priority has been the efficient operation of the city. Not a lot of flash here. But public services from law enforcement and firefighting to parks and recreation programs have been delivered capably.
And in keeping with Mesa's long tradition of political conservatism, for most of the past three decades City Hall has stuck to the basics, shunning so-called “quality of life” projects.
That all changed a few years ago, of course, with Mesa voters' approval of the “Quality of Life Tax” that funded construction of the Mesa Arts Center, which will be one of the biggest and most ambitious cultural venues in the Southwest when it fully opens in the fall. Mesa is about to enter a new era, one in which basic public services must be maintained as City Hall operates the Arts Center and guides what appears to be a dramatic rebirth of the long-languishing downtown along with the blossoming of the Williams Gateway Airport area as a major new employment center.
Hutchinson deserves much credit for helping bring Mesa to this critical juncture. Long a pleasant place in which to live and work, even amid breakneck growth, Mesa now is beginning to make a name for itself as a cultural player and an economic powerhouse.
But enormous challenges lie ahead, and perhaps Hutchinson views this as a good time to bow out before a looming fiscal crisis hits Mesa in the next few years. At the heart of that crisis is the undeniable fact that the city's two main revenue sources, sales tax and utility rates, won't be sufficient to maintain services at the levels residents are used to.
Rather than overseeing a no-win fight over either raising taxes or slashing services, Hutchinson can take his leave relatively unscathed, while the mayor and council look for top-notch administrative talent with a hankering for a monumental challenge.
A candid invitation for applicants should be headlined: “Miracle Worker Wanted.”