As chief of staff for Mayor Alex Penelas, it is Brian May's job to keep his boss out of trouble and to avoid stupid mistakes that could embarrass the mayor. But Penelas's woes continue to mount, and so May's effectiveness is being closely scrutinized.
In recent weeks, May has become a lightning rod for controversy. His deposition in the Church & Tower lawsuit provided an unflattering view of how the mayor's inner circle of advisers operates. He was a key player in the spectacularly bungled firing of Armando Vidal. And he foolishly meddled in a contract involving the company that employs his wife, thereby needlessly exposing himself to allegations of conflict of interest.
All these blunders have caused county insiders to wonder how long the 33-year-old can last on the 29th floor. As he did with Vidal, Penelas at some point must decide if May is a greater liability than he is an asset. If the answer is yes, May will go.
Hoping to buy himself some time, May, who is paid $100,000 per year, has recently told friends he is going to lower his profile, be less visible than he has been recently. Who knows? It might work. One word of advice, however: If you really want to keep a low profile, pay your water bill on time.
The latest embarrassment for May -- and by extension Penelas -- is news that he failed to pay his quarterly water bill. The $133.43 fee was due February 6. After the Mays failed to respond to a second notice, their water was shut off February 26. Returning home that night, the Mays discovered they had no water. George Durkin, chief of the customer service division at the water and sewer department, says he received a call at 9:30 p.m. at home from one of his staffers who was on the phone with Brian May's wife. "She wanted her water turned back on," Durkin recalls. "She announced that her husband worked in the mayor's office."
Durkin says he checked the county's billing records from his home computer and discovered that, in the past, the Mays had always paid their bills on time, so he felt it was all right to have the water turned on that night -- as long as they promised to pay the bill in the morning.
Durkin then called Jorge Rodriguez, deputy director of the county's water and sewer department, to inform him what had occurred. Rodriguez agreed with the plan to turn on the couple's water immediately. "I don't think we extended Mr. May any courtesy that we don't do for other people as well," Rodriguez offers. "We were promised they would pay their bill the following morning and we turned on the water. We would do the same for anyone else."
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According to May, overlooking his water bill was simply an oversight. "This stuff happens," he shrugs. "It wasn't that big a deal."
And he's right. It isn't such a big deal -- unless you're the mayor's chief of staff, in which case minor mistakes have a way of escalating.