Updated: City manager resigns - effective in one year
City manager Mike Letcher submitted his resignation to the Tucson City Council on Tuesday, saying he would step down in one year.
But the embattled city manager may not have that long, said councilmen Paul Cunningham and Steve Kozachik.
In an email dated Tuesday, Letcher told the mayor and council that he would resign effective Aug. 31, 2012, saying "I have done my best with no regrets":
Unfortunately, I 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. I know that I will continue to find problems to fix that expose the city to public criticism. Based on these facts I am submitting my resignation as City Manager effective August 31, 2012. This will allow me to complete one more budget cycle and for the new Mayor and Council to start a thoughtful recruitment process to select the next City Manager.
In the memo, Letcher reviewed his work to maintain the city's core services even as the budget was reduced and the workforce cut.
Kozachik, a Midtown Republican, said the city manager was acting "like a wounded animal, lashing out" in his memo.
Cunningham, a Democrat who represents the East Side, interviewed Tuesday morning, said Letcher may be fired by the council within the next two weeks.
"I don't know whether or not a formal discussion will happen at the next two meetings," he said. "But the time has come for the mayor and council to show serious consideration" to letting Letcher go.
"His Earned Fiasco Average—not ERA, EFA—has reached the point he should be sent back to the minors or given his release," Cunningham said. "The new mayor and council (who will be elected in November) need to have a clean slate and be able to draw up a vision."
The call for Letcher's removal was echoed by Councilman Steve Kozachik, who called the city manager's performance "wholly unacceptable" in a Tuesday interview.
"His own employees don't respect him at this point, all up and down the ten floors of that building he works in," Kozachik said.
Letcher has been under fire for the lax leadership in the city's ParkWise program, and the troubled move to a new 911 emergency system.
Cunningham pointed to Letcher's handling of both ParkWise and 911, along with a suit over a land sale at Irvington and I-19 and Letcher's push to increase the city's sales tax as factors that should lead to his dismissal.
"Every week it's fiasco after fiasco," Cunningham said. "He's out of fiascos, out of mulligans, out of chances."
"He's a nice enough guy, very approachable," Cunningham said. "I respect his service to the community, but it's time for a change."
Kozachik also listed ParkWise and the 911 system as reasons Letcher should go, along with the city manager's push to build a downtown convention hotel, to cut 15 percent across the board from the city's budget, and to transfer SunTran to the Regional Transportation Authority.
"Did he create the problems with the 911 system? No. Was he stealing money out of parking meters? No. But in incident after incident, it's been (Letcher's) M.O. to point his finger and find someone else to blame," Kozachik said.
Letcher was appointed by the council in 2009, after 4 members voted to fire the former city manager, Mike Hein. Letcher was a finalist for the job when Hein was appointed in 2004.
While Letcher has had strong support from Councilwomen Karin Uhlich and Regina Romero, Kozachik has recently called for a change in leadership at the city, but been coy about directly calling for Letcher's ouster. Until now.
"I don't know what the rest of the council is going to do," Kozachik said. "I'd like to see him resign immediately."
Letcher laid out his priorities and defended his tenure in the 6-page memo:
As I have communicated to many of you previously, I have considered my service transitional until retirement to pave the way for the next City Manager. In keeping with that I have good reason to retire. My focus is not to have this organization hide problems, but to have open transparency so problems are brought forward and are corrected. Its important to make sure the problems do not reoccur and that the people who are responsible for day-day operations in the department the problem occurred are held accountable. Problems are meant to be solved not ignored. I choose to solve them. Let me provide information on some of our upcoming challenges.
Letcher's memo is rife with references to the media and criticism of Kozachik for his public statements, particularly on the 911 system:
We need to make sure that more employees do what the Parkwise (sic) employees did; give city management a chance to solve the problem before involving the Mayor and Council or the media.
I feel very strongly that the Ward 6 City Councilmember may have violated the City Charter by his actions and involvement in the 911/Fire EMS Communication Center issues. As City Manager, he was consistently interfering and intimidating to try and influence me to make decisions not in the best interest of the city.
"It's sad he's personalized this," Kozachik said. "It's not personal, it's about accountability."
Letcher's quoting in his memo of text messages sent by Kozachik was "wholly inappropriate," the councilman said. Emails and text messages sent to Letcher via city equipment are public records.
"It's clear this has gotten under his skin. He's acting like a wounded animal, lashing out," Kozachik said.
Letcher's resignation letter wasn't a surprise, Uhlich said.
"I'd always anticipated that Mike would resign in 2012 or perhaps 2013," she said in an interview on the Buckmaster Show on Tuesday.
In an email newsletter last week, Uhlich said "Tucsonans demand and deserve accountability."
"'Shuffling the chairs on the deck' may fix a problem, but it does not hold people directly accountable when serious lapses have occurred. I recognize how hard it is to discipline or fire personnel. I have also demonstrated the backbone to do so when appropriate. The public needs to know that our City Manager will as well," the North Side Democrat wrote.
"We owe it to everyone in Tucson to not only identify management problems, but to fix them," Uhlich wrote.
South Side Democratic Councilman Richard Fimbres concurred on the need for an orderly process in picking a new city manager.
"It is paramount that a smooth transition occurs, as we are still not out of the woods and our city faces current situations and challenges, as well as those we will face in the foreseeable future," he said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
Fimbres credited Letcher with helping see the city through tough economic times, and thanked him for his service.
Letcher's contract calls for a severance package that would cost the city between $150,000-200,000, Cunningham said. Kozachik didn't know if the payout would change based on a possible firing, versus a resignation by Letcher. The city manager's salary is $200,000, Kozachik said.
Prior to his April 2009 appointment, Letcher had served as Tucson's deputy city manager since 2001. Before that, he was the city manager for Sedona.
Letcher's memo acknowledged the possibility that he may not serve for another year:
You hired me as City Manager to fix problems and improve the organization. It was also clear to me that my work would lay the foundation for transitioning to a new City Manager, at the appropriate time. I am working very hard to meet my commitment to you. I am not done with my work and plans to improve this city, but I serve at your pleasure. It’s your choice after reading this memorandum.
Because the City Charter does not give the mayor a vote on firing the city manager, it would take a decision by four of the six council members to remove Letcher.
While the city manager is not specifically listed on the agendas for the council's Wednesday meetings, there is an executive session on the ParkWise scheduled for the afternoon study session. It's possible Letcher's employment could be a part of that discussion.
While he's willing to vote to remove Letcher, "I would support letting him resign sooner" than next year, Kozachik said.
Uhlich doesn't seem to support pushing Letcher out more quickly. "We need a very orderly and professional transition," she said Tuesday.
"Anything more rapid in terms of a timetable, really, I think, puts the city at risk," she told Bill Buckmaster. "I appreciate the cadence of this transition."
"Many of these messes have their genesis a decade or more ago," she said.
A move to hire a new city manager should not be made until after November's election, when a new mayor, and perhaps new city council members, will be elected, Uhlich said.