Wednesday, September 7, 2011

City Hall Showdown: How Will the Tucson City Council Deal With City Manager Mike Letcher Today?

Posted By on Wed, Sep 7, 2011 at 12:48 PM

Tucson City Manager Mike Letcher has placed his neck on the chopping block with yesterday’s resignation letter.

But whether the Tucson City Council will swing the ax at today’s study session remains to be seen.

As political pressure was growing in the wake of various city management issues, Letcher announced yesterday he would resign from the top job in the city bureaucracy—but not for another year. He says he wants to get the city through another budget cycle and past the November election, which will see a new mayor and possibly a few new council members, if any incumbents are taken out by their challengers.

Letcher suggests his proposed timeline also gives the mayor and City Council time to do a search for a new manager.

But at least one council member wants Letcher gone immediately.

“I think the best situation would be for us to allow him to resign immediately, name an interim (manager), begin the search and don’t conclude that search until after we have a new mayor,” says Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik

Letcher says he has no plans to immediately resign, but he'll pack up his office if Kozachik can find three other council members to support firing him today.

“That’s fine,” Letcher says. “As long as my contract is honored.”

Letcher’s contract calls for him to receive six month’s pay if he is terminated.

In his resignation letter, Letcher says that he "cannot change the current political and media climate in this community that focus more on blame than resolution."

"I know now that I can only go so far in changing the organizational climate of the city that has not seen consistent City Management since Joel Valdez," Letcher wrote. "I know that I will continue to find problems to fix that expose the city to public criticism."

In the letter, Letcher also defends his handling of problems with the city's ParkWise system, which has been plagued by financial troubles and missing money, and the 911 system.

He complains that Kozachik worked to undermine Letcher’s management of his staff while he was working to solve the problems with the 911 system.

Kozachik said he was “disappointed at the tenor” of Letcher’s resignation letter.

“He’s clearly personalized this thing,” Kozachik says. “He names me in just about every other paragraph, which is unfortunate because my purpose in bringing up the 911 issue—which he still has heartburn over—was to fix the issue, not to ascribe blame.”

Kozachik says that Letcher has lost the support of his staff.

“His own employees don’t trust him at this point,” Kozachik says. “His own employees don’t respect him.”

Whether Kozachik can find three other City Council members to support him at this afternoon’s study session remains to be seen.

There has been growing frustration with Letcher’s leadership following recent news reports about the troubles with the 911 system and ParkWise.

But at least one council member is backing Letcher up. Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich says that she thinks there’s some element of ‘kill-the-messenger’ going on. He was … hired to bring more transparency and openness to city government. He was hired to identify messes and then work to clean them up. And sure enough, messes are being revealed.”

“I think in many ways, he’s being blamed for fulfilling the charge that he was directly given,” she adds. “There are messes and there are problems and I think that’s true of any government or any organization. The question is whether those are going to be honestly dealt with or not. I think he’s been honest and he’s been willing to take a lot of hits, and I think he’s also willing to acknowledge when mistakes have been made and lessons learned. He’s a humble guy who is doing his best under enormous pressure.”

Letcher had been preparing to retire from his job as an assistant city manager when the City Council fired Mike Hein as city manager in April 2009.

He said yesterday that he had been planning to leave the city in 2013, so if the City Council agrees to his plan to leave in August 2012, he’ll be leaving a year earlier than originally planned.

“I just want one more budget cycle,” Letcher says. “But it’s the council’s choice. I’ve given them August, or they can terminate me.”

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