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North Las Vegas, new manager make fresh starts

One city’s cast-off could be another’s perfect catch.

Tim Hacker, North Las Vegas’ new city manager, has the skills necessary to get the struggling city back on firm financial footing, said two elected officials who used to work with him.

“He is very good at controlling finances,” Mesquite City Councilman Karl Gustaveson said Monday. “He’s a good fit for North Las Vegas.”

Gustaveson was one of three council members who voted in May to oust Hacker from his job as Mesquite city manager. Hacker had worked in Mesquite five years.

The councilman wouldn’t go into specifics about why Hacker’s contract was terminated because the city manager was not “released for cause.”

Neither would former Mayor Susan Holecheck, who said discussing Hacker’s weak points would be “problematic.”

“What I can tell you is that it was really thanks to Tim and our financial director that, unlike most cities, we were able to come in under budget,” Holecheck said. “That’s probably going to be a good thing for North Las Vegas.”

Gustaveson said Mesquite was able to maintain a healthy 15 percent ending fund balance – essentially the city’s savings account – in a challenging financial climate thanks in part to Hacker.

Hacker worked with the council to raise required reserves in fiscal year 2007-2008 because he “could kind of see it coming,” Gustaveson said.

North Las Vegas could have used more of that foresight. The city has gone through several rounds of budget cuts and layoffs since late 2008 and has eliminated or frozen about 1,000 positions.

North Las Vegas had a difficult time balancing its 2012 budget, leading to worries about potential state takeover of the municipality.

The city’s ending fund balance is now around 5 percent, about enough to make one payroll.

Hacker, a few days into his second week on the job, said “finances are definitely going to be steps one through about 10” on his list of priorities. “We as an organization have to think about stability and what that means.”

Because about 75 percent of the city’s noncapital projects budget goes to pay employee salaries and benefits, it means working with employee labor unions “on what’s sustainable,” he said.

“We don’t have the luxury of time, pride or resisting change.”

The city this year engaged in contentious contract talks with its unions, some of which wound up in court. Union leaders said their trust in the city was destroyed.

Meanwhile, some residents and elected officials said police and fire union members haven’t given up their fair share in concessions to help save the city.

Hacker, 46, said his position as a newcomer may help him rebuild those relationships.

“I don’t have that history,” Hacker said. “I can make this a fresh start.”

He will start by focusing on common ground.

“Hopefully, we are all vested in public service to the community,” he said. “While there have been challenges and cost-cutting, people who come to our counter may not even have steady employment.”

Hacker also plans to focus heavily on economic development to bring in revenue. He noted that North Las Vegas has a lot of available land and the infrastructure to support building on it.

“Frankly, I think we are well-situated,” he said. “We have to start taking advantage of our assets.”

The Iowa native said he was never given a reason why Mesquite sent him packing. But such ousters often go with the territory in city management.

“I’ve developed a really thick hide,” he said.

Hacker has more than 20 years of experience in local government.

Before coming to Mesquite, he was city manager of Kewanee, Ill., and was a senior planner for Peoria County. He also held several other government leadership positions in Illinois and Iowa.

He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Southern Illinois University and a bachelor’s degree in community and regional planning from Iowa State University.

Hacker’s salary in North Las Vegas is $180,000 a year plus benefits.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

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