Power shifts at city hall

Published: Sep. 9, 2011 at 9:33 PM MST|Updated: Sep. 21, 2011 at 1:06 PM MST
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The doors were locked as they are every day at 5:00 p.m. at Tucson's city hall.

It was business as usual as a few city employees left the building heading home for the weekend.

But what happened on this Friday is anything but usual.

What they left behind, is a '"power shift".

Power on the 10th floor shifted from a beleaguered former city manager Mike Lecher to the manager" deputy, Richard Miranda.

The Tucson city council informed Letcher on Wednesday that after two years, $70 million in budget cuts, a couple thousand fewer employees, millions less in services, and a few lost battles, his services were no longer needed.

For Letcher, it was an ignoble end to a job he reluctantly took in the first place.

He was just weeks away from retirement when the city suddenly fired Mike Hein. Letcher, who was the deputy, stepped into the interim position.

Days later the council announced he was the person to lead them through tough financial times.

It was a daunting task, and in the end, one he lost.

The council told him they wanted him to find the problems and correct them.

He found the problems, but they seemed to overwhelm him.

The sales tax initiative failed miserably. The proposal to close fire stations brought him the ire of the council members who would see a lost of service. The 911 transition was handled poorly. And the Parkwise fiasco remains unsolved.

The state is now conducting a criminal investigation into the loss of funds, theft, misappropriations of money and sloppy record keeping.

"There was a failure and it was going to cause him problems," says Dale Calvert, chair of the Parkwise commission. "And he was upset."

Parkwise controls 3,000 public parking spaces downtown and $90 million in assets.

Letcher tried to help the city budget by cutting the Parkwise staff by nearly two thirds.

Most on the 13 member commission feel it the lack of staff and the resulting oversight, which caused the problems in the first place.

Two people were trying to run a $90 million enterprise.

Calvert says that was mismanagement.

"I think there was neglect," he says. "And they didn't pay attention until it was obvious there were problems."

As to whether the changes at the top might be the answer, Calvert says "I'll have a much better answer in six months."

Some changes are already being made to Parkwise, like hiring more people, but that decision came too late to save Letcher.

"From a commission standpoint, I want to see results," he says. "That's what it's really all about."