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Criticism wearing on Hein as council evaluation looms

Outcome of pending job review hard to know

City Manager Mike Hein answers questions on the budget during the March 24 City Council meeting.

City Manager Mike Hein answers questions on the budget during the March 24 City Council meeting.

City Manager Mike Hein is no longer so sure he likes his job.

It’s no longer so certain he’ll have it.

After a year of economic recession, a city personnel exodus and a Republican state Legislature lobbing threats of several kinds toward Democratic-led Tucson, Hein is up for an annual performance review.

The outcome, by all accounts, is difficult to predict.

It has been four years since Hein landed the job with resounding support and 10 months since Councilman Steve Leal demanded he resign, citing an irrevocable breach of trust.

The coming evaluation, scheduled for an hour behind closed doors during the City Council’s Tuesday study session, will cover what could, even in its rosiest characterization, be considered a tough year.

Which brings Hein to a resignation-tinged shrug, a smile and an acknowledgement of swirling rumors.

He answered quickly when asked if he liked his job Wednesday. “I don’t right now,” he said.

Even so, he said he loves the community and, though not so much right now, loves serving it.

He said he thinks he got a bad rap in talks about the city’s budget situation, pointing to reports of other cities mired in far worse recession-wrought muck, and he plans to keep showing up to work.

The City Council has been mum this week on Hein’s future, citing concerns about violating the state’s Open Meetings Law.

Council members are under investigation by the Pima County Attorney’s Office for possible violations of the confidentiality restrictions of closed executive sessions after talks about an aborted police chief search.

But as recently as last week, Mayor Bob Walkup and council members Rodney Glassman and Nina Trasoff voiced support for Hein. Others withheld overt praise.

Unlike last June, when Leal pushed to fire Hein, no council member has recently demanded that Hein step down. Still, questions about financial management and decision-making responsibilities remain flashpoints.

Stakes, in the meantime, have been raised. The council now faces difficult decisions on how to close a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall as well as threats of interference from the Legislature, which has proposed changes to city election rules and oversight of downtown development efforts.

Tempers flared in recent weeks as officials faced the prospect of tax and fee increases, layoffs, staff furloughs and department consolidations to balance a budget that depends heavily on plummeting sales tax receipts.

The council was frustrated to learn of previously unacknowledged fund shortfalls and vocabulary mixups that caused shifting impressions of the city’s finances.

“We’ve been waiting for correct numbers,” Councilwoman Regina Romero said at a recent meeting, pointing out the visible anger at the council table.

Hein is scheduled to present a recommended budget April 18, which the council will vote on at a later date.

New life was breathed into allegations of financial mismanagement Jan. 30 when Finance Director Frank Abeyta quit abruptly after four months on the job. His last e-mails indicated concerns about several funds and planned and prospective audits.

Just two weeks ago, Councilwomen Karin Uhlich and Romero supported exploring ways to separate Hein from the city’s embattled downtown development effort, citing a lack of clarity in financial and managerial boundaries.

Uhlich proposed the division immediately after a unanimous vote to explore doing a detailed audit of the Rio Nuevo downtown development district, which has been faulted by state legislators for a perceived lack of transparency, accountability and visible results.

Hein recently announced decisions to halt work on several Rio Nuevo projects, citing the economic downturn.

Other concerns voiced over the past year by members of the council centered on transparency, including evidence that Hein has used his wife’s e-mail account for city business, and his decision in December 2007 to suspend extending water service outside of the area Tucson Water is obligated to serve, which highlighted disagreement over the bounds of Hein’s authority.

Hein’s salary is $211,820. He was hired in 2006 from Pima County, where he was an assistant county administrator. He was Marana town manager before that.

Also slated for consideration at Tuesday’s council meeting are a proposal to charge a fee each time city inspectors are called out on possible code violations and the city’s initiative to promote “green” jobs.

City Manager Mike Hein (far left) recently announced that much of the work on the massive, long-running Rio Nuevo development project will be suspended.

City Manager Mike Hein (far left) recently announced that much of the work on the massive, long-running Rio Nuevo development project will be suspended.

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