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October 20, 2014

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NLV mayor sees city manager’s exit as chance for fresh start

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Sam Morris

North Las Vegas city manager Timothy Hacker answers a question during a meeting with the Las Vegas Sun editorial board Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

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North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee is not worried about the impact the departure of City Manager Tim Hacker will have on the city.

Instead, he sees the change in leadership as a breath of fresh air for both Hacker and the unions. Hacker’s nearly two-year term was defined by financial crises and battles with the unions.

Lee said Hacker’s resignation Wednesday along with city attorney Jeff Barr gives them both a chance to pursue other career opportunities, while the unions receive a fresh start with the city.

“City Manager Hacker has played a critical role in a very difficult chapter in our city's history, and we thank him for his service as we turn the page to a new chapter in our community's future,” Lee said in a statement. “Mr. Hacker’s leadership has been crucial to stabilizing and turning our town around by putting us in a positive direction toward a promising future.”

Hacker, who declined to comment for the story through city spokeswoman Juliet Casey, will be paid six months of his $180,000 salary as part of his severance package. Fire Chief Jeff Buchanan will be interim city manager, and deputy city attorney Sandra Morgan will take over as interim city attorney. Lee has not yet established a timetable to replace the positions.

“I want the interim persons to meet the city council members and get to know them,” Lee said. “I want to make sure there’s buy-in for them, too.”

Former Mayor Shari Buck hired Hacker in September 2011. Before coming to North Las Vegas, Hacker was city manager in Mesquite from February 2006 until he was fired in May 2009. He also worked in the Midwest as a city manager in Kewanee, Ill., and as a city administrator and senior planner.

Hacker stepped into a city that had been decimated by the housing market crash. North Las Vegas had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, dwindling tax revenues and a growing budget gap.

His relationship with the city’s union officials grew contentious that first year during negotiation talks to close a $30 million budget deficit. The relationship only grew worse when the city declared a state of emergency to force concessions on the unions. Those actions were repeated earlier this summer and have led to lawsuits.

After closing the city’s detention center, eliminating office positions and shortening library hours in 2012, Hacker said the only place left to find cuts was in employee wages and benefits, which he estimated accounted for about 80 to 85 percent of the city’s general fund.

He maintained the unions couldn’t expect to keep operating under unsustainable contracts agreed to during better economic times. Buck said his leadership during the negotiations was important for the city as it recovers from the recession.

“He said the city can’t continue to operate this way, and they didn’t like it,” Buck said. “But that’s what we needed and still need.”

The city unions disagreed. Leonard Cardinale, North Las Vegas Police Supervisors Association president, Jeff Hurley, North Las Vegas Firefighters Association president, and North Las Vegas Police Officers Association President Mike Yarter emphasized their members already had made repeated concessions in the past years, forgoing raises and benefits in previous attempts at solving the city’s budget woes. The 2012 tally alone, Yarter said, amounted to $9.5 million from union workers.

All three unions filed lawsuits against the city, and the Police Supervisors union also voted unanimously in June to voice no confidence in Hacker.

Now that Hacker is gone, Cardinale said it would improve the union’s relationship with the city “immensely.”

“This is absolutely good news for the citizens, police department, and for the city as we move forward,” Cardinale said. “We are hoping the city can find someone more reasonable than Tim Hacker, and that we can find some common ground there.”

But Buck said Hacker’s departure could have a negative impact on the city.

“Anytime you have top leadership leave, it could cause the financial institutions to look at the city, the state to look at the city again,” Buck said. “There could be some very negative repercussions that those are cheering his departure haven’t even thought about.”

Lee disagrees. While the city has seen its bond rating lowered, he said the decision will be perceived purely as a business one and not as a sign of instability.

“With my experience, the city council’s stability, and we have a national search we’re doing, they will see this as just a business decision,” Lee said. “And we’re going to make a business decision after this that’s even bigger and better I hope.”

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