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Top city staff try to regroup in wake of city manager’s firing

Citizen Staff Writer



Tuesday’s City Council study session was not over when the final vote rang out, so City Manager Mike Hein, officially relieved of his job, asked to be dismissed.

He left the council chambers for the building’s top floor, gathered up some papers and handed them to his deputies.

He was gone within minutes, his door closed in finality, and it remains so.

Even Councilman Rodney Glassman, who rushed to the top floor still smarting from a lost vote, was met with a handle that didn’t turn. He shut each of the remaining open doors.

Acting City Manager Mike Letcher, visibly rattled, echoed the “no comment” Hein had spoken over his shoulder in exit.

Three days from the vote that emptied City Hall’s top seat, the documents Hein passed on are guiding the city’s new administration through the wake.

While the air of uncertainty about the immediate future that permeated City Hall on Tuesday night may be fading, the shock has not.

Even for Hein. He said Friday that he was surprised by the vote and even parts of the aftermath.

“If I’d been expecting it, I would have had less stuff and boxes stacked in the corner,” he said.

He wouldn’t speak about what led up to the vote or how it could be that an annual evaluation of the man behind the running of a city could take less than half an hour.

“It’s difficult to quantify the work of a manager,” he said. “As time passes, we’ll have to see.”

Hein’s deputies reflect his surprise. Assistant City Manager Richard Miranda said Friday that as recently as Monday Hein had assured him he would be at work the day after his evaluation.

Rio Nuevo finance manager Stacie Bird said that she was shocked to hear of the council’s 4-2 vote. Council members Regina Romero, Karin Uhlich, Steve Leal and Shirley Scott voted to fire Hein. Council members Rodney Glassman and Nina Trasoff opposed firing him. By city charter rule, Mayor Bob Walkup’s vote to keep Hein didn’t count.

Bird went to Friday’s emergency Rio Nuevo board meeting to witness potential changes to her job. At the meeting, board member Jeff DiGregorio said the financial management of the district could be outsourced.

Leal, who was in the closed session for Hein’s evaluation, said Friday that “There were some things that I was surprised at.” He declined to elaborate.

Since the vote Tuesday night, Letcher and Miranda have been working to pick up the pieces and prioritize. The top three items on their list are finishing the budget, moving forward on Rio Nuevo and hiring a police chief.

“There are only two of us now,” each said. “But between us,” Miranda said, “we have 60 years of experience.”

Letcher said Thursday that he plans to submit to the council the budget composed under Hein “with minor adjustments.”

He would not elaborate on what the changes would be. Miranda similarly demurred on detailing the changes but emphasized that the budget would not be submitted exactly as Hein wrote it.

Letcher said the budget had been put together in a “very collaborative” process with the council and other staff in the City Manager’s Office, and it has already gone to print.

The process will stay on schedule, and talks will be held in public, Letcher said.

The council will review the budget April 21, and the first of three public hearings is scheduled for April 28. The final approval is set for June.

Questions about the city’s financial management, including the budget, have been cited by the four members of the council who voted Hein out as fuel for the fire.

During Tuesday’s study session prior to Hein’s dismissal, the council learned that the city needs to close a $25.8 million budget gap before June 30.

Assistant to the City Manager Marie Nemerguth said the city will not dip into its savings as much as officials thought.

Officials plan to rely on the refinancing of highway-user revenue fund bonds and certificate of participation issuances to close parts of this fiscal year’s shortfall. More refinancing is anticipated for next fiscal year, Interim Finance Director Silvia Amparano said.

To complete the deals, which are expected to get Tucson lower interest rates on some of its debt, will require officials to meet with bond rating agencies.

Representatives of the major rating agencies declined to speak about how Hein’s firing could affect an assessment of Tucson’s financial health but said that management and budget plans would be part of their evaluation. They would not comment further.

Romero, Uhlich and Leal downplayed concerns about financial ratings and praised Letcher’s experience and performance.

Glassman on Friday cautioned against taking a “ready-fire-aim approach” amidst the economic crisis and management upheaval. He said he worried the move could put the city in a “negative light” with ratings agencies.

No council member offered a plan for how to replace Hein permanently. Letcher said he will retire at the end of November.

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