JOHN MICHAEL NACHBAR, the heir apparent to retiring City Manager Luis Gutierrez, is instead returning home to Kansas after being named city manager of affluent Overland Park.
"I love Tucson. I was geared up to try to succeed Luis here," Nachbar said Tuesday, one day after the Overland Park City Council voted unanimously to name him manager. "This is the only position that could have lured me away. In the end, it was family. It is just uncanny timing."
Nachbar, 43 and Gutierrez's chief deputy for three years, said he will leave before the end of the year.
The departure of the city's top administrative bosses now means the City Council, with Republican Mayor Bob Walkup and Democratic Councilwoman Carol West taking their seats December 6, will "have to do a search, period," said Councilman Steve Leal, a Democrat.
Only Councilman Jerry Anderson, a Democrat, and Fred Ronstadt, a Republican, expressed support initially for a search.
Nachbar, who joined the city as an assistant manager in 1994, seemed to have the necessary four votes to succeed Gutierrez when the manager announced two weeks after city elections that he would retire after three years as manager and a City Hall career of 31 years.
But Nachbar also was in the 58-person pool seeking to be the third manager in Overland Park since the upscale community south of Kansas City incorporated in 1960. A native of nearby Shawnee, Nachbar served as an assistant city manager in Overland Park from 1982 to 1987. His mentor there, City Manager Don Pipes, served, with one private-sector break, for 33 years.
If Nachbar looked a little worn out to those watching the Tucson City Council on November 22, he was. In what was a clear case of sleeping media (Weekly included), Nachbar was in Overland Park the previous weekend for interviews.
Nachbar's local ties and education put him over the top. Speaking to The Kansas City Star, Overland Park Council President Greg Musil said: "I think people got comfort from his education at KU and his serving under Don Pipes."
Nachbar received his bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Kansas in 1978 and his master's in public administration in 1980.
Gutierrez, serving then as deputy manager to Michael F. Brown, interviewed Nachbar in 1994 and recommended that the mercurial manager hire Nachbar, then the manager of the small East Bay community of Albany.
"He's just been super," Gutierrez said. "He's a quality guy, a very capable administrator and manager, and I was very pleased that there had been indications from the Council that he would be appointed manager."
Nachbar, who also was city manager of tiny Patterson, Calif., and an administrative assistant in Wichita Falls, Texas, was a particularly talented negotiator, Gutierrez said.
"He has a sixth sense," Gutierrez said.
Nachbar is credited with restoring order to Tucson Water when the slow-moving City Council finally ripped Brown for his inability to corral the utility's maverick and often incapable leadership that was alternately defiant and paralyzed with its hugely botched delivery in 1992 of Central Arizona Project water.
"I got shoved in there when the Council has just lost confidence in the water department," Nachbar said. "It was really at a low point. The way I went about was I just had to spend a lot of time finding out why it had happened and what went wrong. In shorthand, the utility had not focused on water quality as defined by the customer. That's when we launched the At The Tap Program.
"There was an attitude that if they got the water to your property line and it met state and federal quality standards, then they got the job done," Nachbar said. "That was wrong. We focused on the tap and what was in the customer's glass."
At Overland Park, home to the sprawling construction project to house the Sprint headquarters, Nachbar will have neither a water department nor fire department to manage in a considerably pared down organization.
While the city of Tucson, the 10th largest among the U.S. cities to have a city manager, is operating this year on an $819.5 million budget, Overland Park has a $113 million budget. Tucson has 5,681 full time employees while Overland Park has 690.
Nachbar, who makes $123,480 a year in Tucson, will get a base salary of $135,000 in Overland Park. He will take over a city that is on such solid financial footing that it is one of only 13 cities in the United States with AAA ratings from both Moody's Investor Services and Standard & Poor's.
Leal said he wants the search to produce a successor who is not a "showboat. I want somebody who knows how to put a budget together that can be understood by the Council and by the public and that doesn't hide things. I want somebody who knows Council policy means something and who won't try to buy off Council members with projects in their wards. That's real divisive."