It's more than a little fitting that David Denig-Chakroff, the embattled head of Madison's water utility, announced his resignation today, the same day as U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Both men found themselves undermined by their own poor reputation, to where they could not effectively lead their respective departments.
For my part, I'm sorry to see them go. I have long pulled for Gonzales to remain in his post. Given the Bush administration's sorry record and even sorrier inclinations, having an ineffective Justice Department is the best anyone can hope for. Besides, what better emblem of our current government than to have the nation's highest law enforcement office headed by a shameless liar?
In the case of Denig-Chakroff, my sympathies are more sincere. He was always accessible to me (note to public officials: returning reporters' calls does have its rewards) and the momentum that built up against him struck me as a bit unfair.
Sure, the water utility has made mistakes and done a poor job of communicating with its own workers and the general public. And yes, there are legitimate concerns about the quality of the city's water that Denig-Chakroff was unable to assuage.
But there was, in the reaction against Denig-Chakroff, an element of piling on -- a swirling of sharks attracted by the blood in the, er, water. Because of the negative attention, he was scrutinized more closely, leading to more negative attention than he otherwise would have received.
I don't think it was ever clearly established that the city's water is unfit to drink; it's probably just as healthy as the bottled water people spend more for than gasoline. And at least some of the rumblings from within the Water Utility came from people who's dislike of Denig-Chakroff seems as pathological as Gonzales' need to lie.
In announcing the resignation, which subject to Common Council approval is effective Sept. 21, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz thanked Denig-Chakroff for "his long service to the city." Denig-Chakroff, meanwhile, thanked the utility's employees. He'll leave with $130,596 in walking-away money, including $75,535 in accrued benefits. City Engineer Larry Nelson will take over until a new general manager is hired.