As a Republican candidate for governor, Fife Symington often pledged to voters that he would trim state government if elected governor. Describing his plans in the jargon of Formula One racing, he talked of making a downsized, streamlined, fast-paced government "perform."
After less than a month as governor, however, Symington has assembled the largest--and highest paid--executive staff in the history of the office.
Among the smiling faces on the Ninth Floor of the State Capitol are some stirring success stories. Take Dennis O'Connor, for instance. A 23-year-old politics junkie from Dartmouth College, O'Connor had read about Symington's jousting against Evan Mecham in William F. Buckley's National Review and was so inspired by Fife that he moved from New Hampshire to Arizona to work as a campaign volunteer.
They hit it off during the campaign, and Symington offered O'Connor the newly created post of "personal assistant." O'Connor's job? "He will write the governor's thank-you notes, help get him places on time, just whatever needs doing," says press secretary Douglas Cole. O'Connor, however, won't be a valet for the patrician Symington. "He won't pick up Fife's dry cleaning, things like that," Cole says. "They have a lady at the house full-time who does that sort of thing."
For this, O'Connor will be paid $30,000 a year. It's a great break for a guy just out of college, O'Connor admits. "I'm having a great time," he enthuses.
It is not unusual for a politician, or even a corporate executive, to have a gofer like Dennis O'Connor. What is unusual is how much company O'Connor has up there on the Ninth Floor.
Symington has named eighteen campaign associates to executive staff positions, ballooning the number of $50,000-and-up posts by nearly fifty percent over the waning days of the Mofford administration. Symington has also hired half a dozen administrative aides to assist his kitchen cabinet. At her peak, Rose Mofford had about a dozen executive assistants and a couple of administrative assistants.
"How he wants to organize his office is up to him," says Chris Herstam, Symington's director of communications. "We're being very careful to stay within budgetary guidelines."
So how does a chief exec increase the number of top-paying jobs, hire somebody to write his thank-you notes (a separate person writes his speeches for $49,000 a year, four grand more than Mofford's speechwriter earned), and still stay within the budget?
The answer is, Symington fired two thirds of Mofford's secretarial staff, along with most of the people assigned to "constituent services," whose time was devoted to resolving hassles between the bureaucracies and the thousands of frustrated John Q. Publics who call the governor's office for help each year.
In their places, Symington has appointed a platoon of pricey aides, creating new categories of specialization for such areas as "economic resources," "economic development" and "fiscal affairs."
Campaign press aide Annette Alvarez, occupying another newly created position, will be paid $60,000 a year as executive assistant for international relations. Media relations, handled by one person in previous administrations, will be shared by three people--director of communications Chris Herstam ($85,000), press secretary Doug Cole ($50,000) and assistant press secretary Katie Miller ($25,000).
Where Mofford and governors before her had at most a personal secretary and perhaps one other person to handle the scheduling of official appearances, Symington has at least three personal attendants, including O'Connor, working full-time.
Education, which Symington called a key concern during the campaign, is lumped in with "fiscal affairs" under the "oversight" of Elliott Hibbs, whose background is in business and corporate tax law. Four important advocacy offices, those for children, women, Native Americans, and drug policy, are grouped together under a "community outreach" aide.
Symington's spin doctors insist he's well within the budget approved for Mofford. They say Symington actually employs three fewer people in total than Mofford.
His payroll is $1.95 million, only $65,000 larger than Mofford's was at the height of her administration, and communications director Herstam contends the excess is an accounting mirage, anyway. "One of the people assigned to him is actually an employee of another agency, so that salary doesn't really come out of the governor's budget," Herstam says.
This technique--hiring staff but funding them from other agencies' budgets--was pioneered by Bruce Babbitt, whose Democratic administration regularly raided the now-defunct Office of Economic Planning and Development for expertise on various issues. However, former Governor Evan Mecham raised the technique to an art form during his short reign.
On paper, Mecham appeared to have one of the smallest executive staffs in recent memory, but following his impeachment, Mofford administration officials found additional staffers tucked in agencies throughout state government. "Mecham had his people buried all over the place," recalls George Britton, deputy chief of staff for Babbitt who later helped in the Mofford transition. "They were on other [agencies'] payrolls, but when we started asking questions about what they did and who they reported to, it became clear they reported directly to Governor Mecham."
Britton, a top-level official in two Democratic administrations before joining the City of Phoenix as an assistant city manager, offers the most charitable assessment of Symington's crew heard among Democrats these days. "The size of the governor's staff may be a function of his management style," Britton says. "If he favors a collegial approach, as did Babbitt, the executive staff will be small because the cabinet heads will have a lot of latitude--and responsibility. A large staff may be a sign he intends to manage state government directly from the governor's office."
Symington's people offer no clear indication of which way their man is headed. "He has made it very clear he's a team player," says Herstam, a former legislator who stands to be an influential power broker. "But it remains to be seen how much he will delegate to the agency heads. He's inherited a lot of people from Mofford, and he's likely to rely heavily on his own staff until he appoints a new cabinet or develops a good rapport with the existing cabinet head."
Okay, but who's gonna do the typing?
"A large staff may be a sign he intends to manage state government directly from the governor's office.