No one surprised by firing of city engineer

By Peter Ciancone/Tribune-Star

May 18, 2003

The big news in the city this week was the firing of City Engineer Pat Goodwin.

The event set some sort of unofficial record on my voice mail, with more than 20 calls either to let me know it happened or to complain about it.

Nobody seemed surprised by the move -- Goodwin and Mayor Judy Anderson had hardly spoken since February when Goodwin had a leading role in exposing a situation at City Hall involving the mayor's son, who was involved in a potential conflict of interest in the Sanitary District -- but the suddenness did catch some people off guard.

One City Council member said that in the absence of gross misconduct or malfeasance, the proper thing to do would have been to give the engineer a chance at least to pass down to his successor a few of the "must dos" in the next month to keep the department and the city running smoothly, but that didn't happen.

Goodwin had to find a ride home after his firing cost him the city-owned vehicle he drove in to work that day.

Throughout the rest of the week, few people refrained from making their own comments on the subject of Goodwin's firing. Lord knows I heard a lot of them personally, or over the phone.

None of them was complimentary toward Mayor Anderson, in spite of the blunt realization that she has every right to pick who she wants as department heads.

One wiser-than-most observer of the local political scene said it comes down to not whether a mayor can or even should make such a personnel move, but how he or she decides to handle it.

The paper printed some of the more pointed opinions in its letters to the editor. Another one caught drivers' attention as they made their way along Third Street.

The sign on Jim Jenkins' restaurant changes to stay topical. Shortly after Goodwin was fired, Jenkins changed it to read, "Only 225 employees until Xmas."

As long as we're on the subject of post-election fallout, I read with considerable interest, as I always do, Vicki Weger's Tuesday's Blues. It's a weekly feature in a daily e-mail circular that is occasionally news through links, and more often a forum for you-might-be-a-redneck jokes, word games and puzzles.

Among other things, this week Weger provided a list of people she said we can expect to see appointed to city department head slots if Democratic Party mayoral nominee Kevin Burke wins in November. They were all folks who were visibly active on Burke's behalf throughout his campaign.

Funny how that kind of "spoils for a job well done" behavior is obnoxious only when somebody else does it.

It was especially interesting to read her continue to hammer on innuendo about Burke's faith, in spite of a bold indication May 6 that voters were heartily sick of that kind of negativity.

Reminds me of a wasp. You step on it, but the stinger keeps coming out.

This week I had the privilege of interviewing, twice, Mitch Daniels, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

I freely admit that this job has its perks and that's definitely one of them.

This is a guy who, most of the time, is tough to get to. As the president's budget guru, he usually has an army of the Washington press corps jogging behind him, hoping for the chance to get a word in edgewise.

This week, Daniels came to the Wabash Valley to speak at the Sullivan County Lincoln Day dinner -- doing his part for the Republican Party -- and to speak at Rose-Hulman as part of a distinguished lecturer series. In those visits, we had only a handful of local media reporters to work around.

Daniels is being hotly pursued by a number of Indiana Republicans who want him to come back home to run for governor. His announcement May 6 that he was leaving the White House fueled that fire to a whiter heat.

Most people expect him to announce his candidacy this summer, though he said this week that he owed President Bush a full-time budget director's job until June 6.

If he runs, he will probably be hard to unhorse as the favorite to win the Republican nomination, in spite of the crowded field, especially with national credentials and a recommendation from his former boss, a popular sitting president in a state that went heavily his way in November 2000.

Thursday night in Sullivan he spoke to a rural Republican base. Friday he spoke to the faculty and students at one of the most prestigious colleges in our country. He seemed at ease in both places, though it is hard to imagine how a Princeton- and Georgetown-educated lawyer who has worked for two presidents and an Indianapolis mayor, now senior U.S. senator, can mingle comfortably with the average Hoosier.

He has a lot of Bubba factor to make up. His polish is so evident it might be hard to lose. In spite of my status as a long-standing Hoosier, I've never been able to understand why we have such an aversion to education and sophistication, but there you go.

Whatever you think of his politics, Daniels is the kind of guy you'd hope to see in a president's cabinet.

One thing for sure, Democrats ought to be concerned if he gets into the race. In a state that leans toward conservatives, in general, and Republicans, specifically, he will present a significant challenge.

At the news conference following Daniels' speech at Rose-Hulman, his father sat in. He raised his hand to ask a question and the junior Daniels said he wasn't going to call on him because he'd been answering his questions all his life.

In keeping with my role as the public watchdog, I asked Daniels to own up and answer whatever questions were posed. Daniels senior asked why junior had stopped providing decent jokes in his speeches.

Tough crowd, especially with Dad in it. I snickered at the quip Daniels made to start his speech about the country producing more than one lawyer for every two engineers.

Peter Ciancone's weekly column appears on Sunday. He can be reached at (812) 231-4253 or

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