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Firing Line

Councilman Steve Leal wants City Manager Mike Hein's head

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Councilman Steve Leal delivered an ultimatum to City Manager Mike Hein earlier this week: Quit, or be fired.

In a letter to Hein, Leal said that he has "lost the comfort level that I need for a viable working relationship with a city manager.

"Because of the significance of the issues at stake in our community, it leaves me no choice but to ask for your resignation," Leal wrote in the letter. "... If this is not agreeable to you, I will place your contract and its termination on the next mayor and council agenda."

Whether Leal has the votes to force out Hein remains to be seen.

Mayor Bob Walkup said on Monday, June 23, that he was behind Hein "110 percent." Hein also has solid support from Council Members Nina Trasoff and Rodney Glassman.

But his support remains weak among the other three council members. Shirley Scott, who was unavailable for comment on Monday, has been upset with Hein over police salaries, while Regina Romero has been critical of the city manager over the progress of downtown redevelopment.

Ward 3 City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich may prove to be the swing vote. Last week, Uhlich was critical of Hein over a proposal to raise bus fares by a quarter. Uhlich said that Hein's proposed budget had reduced the general-fund subsidy for the bus service by about $4 million in upcoming years, which was the same amount of money that the fare increase was estimated to bring in.

Uhlich has complained that city staff hasn't yet been able to explain the drop in funding in the budget documents that she's examined, but she stopped short of calling for Hein's head.

"I think I've been clear about my frustration about getting very basic information that's essential to making good policy decisions," Uhlich said. "And that is a serious concern that needs to be addressed. Whether or not that means Mike has to go--I haven't made up my mind yet."

Uhlich said she wants to have a meeting next week to decide Hein's future "in as professional and orderly of a way as possible."

Hein was on vacation and unavailable for comment, although one council aide said that the city manager would be returning to Tucson to meet with council members this week.

Walkup defended Hein's job performance, saying the city manager had done a good job of working cooperatively with Pima County since he was appointed to the job in 2005.

"As a result of that, we've moved forward on more regional initiatives that are of great benefit to the community," Walkup said. "I absolutely believe in Mike and what he has done. We need to shore up a couple of things, but in my opinion, every one of the things that council members have mentioned is fixable by sitting down and talking about it and implementing corrective action."

Trasoff, who was elected alongside Uhlich in 2005, also praised Hein's management of the city. She added that "there are communication issues that need to be worked through, but I am extremely hopeful that can be done."

Leal, however, said that Hein has too often ignored the will of the council in making decisions about downtown redevelopment and the location of the Greyhound Bus depot. He also complained that the manager too often briefs council members in 1-on-1 meetings rather than having discussions at council study sessions.

Leal's call for Hein's ouster comes as the city is facing a tight budget year. Sales-tax revenues are below projections; state budget funds could still be cut; and a slowing housing market has stalled many downtown revitalization projects.

The proposed city budget avoids layoffs and continues funding street repairs, but it does not include raises for any employees or new hires for the police and fire departments; those new hires have been a key element of the council's sustainability plan.

While the firefighters and other unions have expressed understanding that money is tight, the police union has put pressure on the council to hire more cops.

As of press time, city staff had yet to respond to Uhlich's concerns and explain the decrease in Sun Tran funding in future general funds, although an earlier report from Jim Glock, the city's transportation director, noted that the general-fund subsidy for Sun Tran has increased from $25.5 million in fiscal year 2004 to an estimated $38 million in fiscal year 2008.

Walkup, who was the lone vote supporting an increase in bus fares, said it was "unfortunate" that the city staff had been unable to respond to Uhlich's complaints sooner.

"I don't think it was an attempt by someone to change the subsidy level, which means you're changing the service, without the approval of the council," Walkup said. "I think it's a matter of capital moving out, and maybe some other things moving in. I wasn't nearly as concerned about that as some other council members."

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