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Council fires city manager Letcher
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Council fires city manager Letcher

  • Mike Letcher and City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich await the roll call vote on his firing Wednesday.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comMike Letcher and City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich await the roll call vote on his firing Wednesday.
  • Mike Letcher.
    City of TucsonMike Letcher.

City manager Mike Letcher was fired from a job he'd already resigned from by the Tucson City Council during Wednesday's study session.

On a 6-0 vote, the council voted to remove Letcher from office, effective Friday.

The city manager's most staunch advocate on the council, Karin Uhlich, made the motion to fire Letcher, saying she recognized he "would not choose to serve for a council deeply divided." Councilwoman Shirley Scott seconded the move, and every council member voted in favor without discussion.

Letcher left the council chambers without commenting. Other than a brief whisper to City Attorney Mike Rankin, he did not speak as he left.

The council considered Letcher's continued employment after Mayor Bob Walkup added an item on the city manager's resignation to the agenda. The discussion was delayed until after 4 p.m. because of public notice requirements. Because of restrictions in the city charter, the mayor is not allowed to vote on firing the city manager.

Although Letcher had the option to require the council deliberate in executive session, he didn't do so.

Letcher's contract calls for him to receive six months' pay if he is terminated. His salary was $211,000.

Deputy City Manager Richard Miranda, the number two executive in city government, will take Letcher's place through at least next Tuesday's council meeting. The council will then pick who will become the interim city manager while a search for a permanent replacement takes place.

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.

Kozachik, a Midtown Republican, said Tuesday the city manager was acting "like a wounded animal, lashing out" in his memo.

After the vote Wednesday, he said Letcher "cooked his own goose" by sending the memo.

Cunningham, a Democrat who represents the East Side, had said when interviewed Tuesday morning that Letcher might 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 Tuesday.

Letcher was appointed by the council in 2009, after four 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 had recently called for a change in leadership at the city, but had been coy about directly calling for Letcher's ouster. Until Tuesday.

"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 six-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.

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

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