New Henderson councilman sees hands-on role


John Marz was appointed to replace embattled former Henderson City Councilwoman Kathleen Vermillion by promising he would not run for a full term in 2013, but don't call him a caretaker.

That's the word Mayor Andy Hafen and other council members used when voting 3-1 on Jan. 23 to hand Marz the reins to the city's Ward 3.

Caretaker is a good word to describe some jobs, but Marz doesn't think public servant is one of them.

Marz, 62, sees himself taking a hands-on role until his abbreviated term expires in 2013.

"I plan on being a very active participant," he said. "I have a vested interest in Henderson, and I intend to use what I've learned in business over the last 40 years to help the city. I'm not here just to keep the seat warm."

Marz won't attend his first meeting until tonight, but he has made the rounds meeting with department heads, learning what the key issues are and asking questions -- particularly when it comes to the serious budget issues the city faces.

BAPTISM BY FIRE

More questions might come tonight, when the City Council could vote to permanently eliminate 22 now-vacant positions and set aside about $5 million to fund another round of employee buyouts.

No layoffs are planned, and cost-of-living and some step pay raises already have been put on hold, but city officials remain concerned about unstable housing and commercial markets that have plagued Nevada and the nation since 2009, after the recession began.

About 220 city workers have opted to take a buyout since 2009, saving Nevada's second-largest city more than $14 million a year as revenues declined and rainy day funds dried up.

The next round, if approved, will go to cover an expected budget shortfall of $13 million this fiscal year, which starts July 1, and $14 million in 2013, according to Finance Director Richard Derrick.

He said the money used to fund the voluntary employee severance program is recouped in about 10 to 12 months.

The $13 million shortfall for 2012 represents about 5 percent of the city's $323 million general fund, Derrick said.

Marz said he is impressed with how the city has managed to address the shortfalls while still maintaining public services and one of the lower property tax rates, but he questions how long that can continue despite small hints a recovery is on the way.

About $105 million has been cut from city spending since 2009.

He also believes he brings a businessman's perspective the council might find useful going forward.

BUYOUT OPTION FADES

There are subtle signs the city's reliance on employee buyouts has run its course. Employees who take the buyout receive two weeks pay for every year they worked with the city. The issue has been on the agenda twice since December, but Mayor Andy Hafen postponed discussion to gather more information on how the city would partially implement its budget contingency plan.

While less than a handful of employees have been laid off and employee buyouts don't affect morale like mass layoffs do, asking an ever-shrinking workforce to pick up the slack has its limits. The workforce, already lean compared with many other government employers in Nevada, according to city officials, has shrunk 17 percent to about 1,870.

Marz admits he has never seen the economy fall so far for so long. His game plan to help the city persevere is as old school as he is.

"I face problems head-on," he said. "I don't skirt around issues. We need to cut what we need to cut, and when revenues increase, we can add back some of those jobs and services."

Despite a lifetime spent in the private sector, Marz is not a political neophyte. He was appointed to the Henderson Planning Commission in 2009 and has handled political campaigns for several candidates in his career.

Marz was not comfortable discussing specific issues the city faces before he attends his first meeting, with the exception of budgetary concerns.

He said he supports three of the largest proposed projects on the city's drawing board: plans to build a $1 billion sports complex; Union Village, a $1 billion medical complex; and the $63 million Henderson Space and Science Center, which would be housed within Union Village.

But he did discuss how his professional and personal life led him to this moment.

ROOTS IN HENDERSON

Raised in Salt Lake City, Marz graduated from Brigham Young University in 1971 with a degree in marketing.

His first job out of school was in the Las Vegas Review-Journal's advertising department.

At the time, the newspaper's then-parent company, Donrey Media Group, also owned KOLO-TV in Reno and transferred Marz there to lead regional advertising.

A few years later, at 27, Marz co-founded what would become DRGM Advertising. At its height, the firm was the second-largest advertising and marketing firm in Nevada, earning $70 million a year with 120 people on the payroll.

After 25 years with DRGM, Marz sold his interest and went to work for Mandalay Bay Resorts as a senior vice president overseeing marketing and events.

Eight years later, he resigned to found Marz & Company. This time, it's a family affair. Marz works with two of his three daughters; the third is a nurse at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center.

The two women followed in dad's footsteps. The oldest is a graduate from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. The other graduated from BYU with a degree in advertising.

"It's a fun field," he said of marketing, but Marz is all about family these days.

He and his wife, Barbara, have lived in Henderson for 26 years. Their daughters and sons-in-law live in Henderson with their five grandchildren.

"Henderson is a wonderful community," he said. "It's been a great place to raise our family, and I want to do my part to make that continue."

And he insists he meant it when he said he will not run for a full term next year.

"I know what incumbency means," Marz said. "I know it's easier for incumbents to raise money and build a campaign. I know incumbents enjoy name recognition that their opponents don't have, and I think the advantages an appointee such as myself would have takes away from the electorate. I want the voters of Ward 3 to elect the candidate of their choosing with a clean slate."

That doesn't mean he won't do his very best to earn their respect.

"My goal is to have people say I'm sorry you said you wouldn't run."

Just don't call him a caretaker.

Contact reporter Doug McMurdo at dmcmurdo@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512.

 

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