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Hein is gone, but council still must face critical issues

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

With their unexpected and ill- conceived firing of City Manager Mike Hein this week, City Council members now face a litany of critical issues.

Hein was criticized for taking on many important tasks himself and delegating relatively few. Maybe so. But that is a situation the council should have taken into account before it gave Hein the boot.

No timetable has been set to find a replacement for Hein. In the meantime, Deputy City Manager Mike Letcher is leading city government – but Letcher has said he plans to retire in November.

Finding someone competent and willing to run the city must certainly be the primary responsibility of the council. But there are other pressing matters:

• The Rio Nuevo downtown redevelopment effort may be threatened.

Money diverted from state coffers is key to Rio Nuevo’s progress. But some legislators displeased with the slow pace of Rio Nuevo have threatened to cancel future funding.

Hein was in direct charge of Rio Nuevo, and his departure further muddies the downtown waters. Who will now be in charge? And will that mollify or anger legislators who have their hands on the purse strings?

• The city budget is awash in red ink this year and next. Hein had several ideas for addressing that, all of which now are in limbo.

Hein had hoped to renegotiate contracts with the city’s unions to cut $10 million in costs. Those talks, led by Hein, were ongoing when he was fired.

Hein also asked the council to increase revenue by $5 million per year through higher fees or taxes. The council has not addressed that.

And Hein asked the council to decide how to cut $4 million from funding to outside agencies. The council has not addressed that, either.

• Hein had announced plans to merge the Urban Planning and Development Services departments, with some jobs eliminated. Hein was overseeing that effort, now in limbo.

Savings from the merger were to help ease next year’s budget problems.

• The city is about to refinance millions of dollars in bonds and certificates of deposit for lower interest rates and to delay some payments because of budget problems. That is in limbo. More refinancings were planned for next year.

It is not known what Hein’s sudden departure will mean for interest rates. Will bond buyers demand higher interest payments because of uncertainty at the top?

Steve Leal, Regina Romero, Shirley Scott and Karin Uhlich – the four City Council members who voted to fire Hein – have said that dispatching him would clear up a lot of problems within the city.

But they are more likely to discover the problems have been magnified and intensified.

Future of Rio Nuevo, budget red ink and refinancing of bonds won’t be resolved by firing Hein.

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