Stories vary over departure of North Las Vegas manager

North Las Vegas’ new mayor and former city manager have different stories when it comes to dissecting last week’s big shake-up in City Hall.

The shake-up, just a few months after former state lawmaker John Lee took office as mayor, ended with City Manager Tim Hacker resigning. City Attorney Jeff Barr also resigned, although that departure was said by Lee to be long in the works.

Hacker’s departure, just two years after former Mayor Shari Buck appointed him, was the bigger news.

That’s because his tenure as manager of the struggling city included epic battles with police and fire unions as he sought to patch eight-figure holes in the city budget.

Lee was vague when asked about the reasons for Hacker’s resignation, giving an answer that made it sound like a case of a manager drained by two years of exhausting clashes over tough decisions.

“It is almost post-traumatic stress,” Lee said. “You just get worn out.”

Reached Friday, Hacker, who was slightly less vague, made it sound less like a case of burnout and more like a person unwilling to deal with a micromanaging boss.

“It is really necessary for mayor and council to respect the role of manager so the manager can really take care of the back of the house,” Hacker said. “It is pretty clear in our council-manager form of government those duties are pretty well laid out and set each party up for success.”

Both men denied the shake-up had anything to do with displeasure among union members with Hacker’s approach.

Mike Yarter, president of the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association, agreed, albeit while admitting there was no love lost between Hacker and unionized employees.

“If we had the ability to do that it would have happened a long time ago,” Yarter said.

— Benjamin Spillman

THEY MET IN SECOND GRADE

New state Superintendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga can say his relationship with Gov. Brian Sandoval goes way back and won’t be exaggerating at all.

The two men, both now 50, met as second-graders in Northside Elementary School in Fallon. That would have been in 1969 or 1970.

“We took our first communion together that year, before his family moved to Sparks,” said Erquiaga, appointed last week by his old friend as the new state superintendent. He will begin his new job Aug. 26 and work out of the Department of Education’s offices in Carson City and Reno.

After the meeting so many years ago, Erquiaga and Sandoval did not reconnect until both attended the University of Nevada, Reno.

After serving two years as the governor’s policy director, Erquiaga left last year to move to Arizona where he could be closer to his two children. His son is preparing to move and work in Estonia and his daughter is about to graduate from Arizona State University. Erquiaga said they had a “great year together” and now can wander off a bit.

While some might question the wisdom of the governor naming an old buddy for one of the top jobs in the state, Erquiaga has more government experience than Sandoval. He has been the deputy secretary of state under then Secretary of State Dean Heller, the director of the Department of Cultural Affairs for Gov. Kenny Guinn and the government affairs director for the Clark County School District.

Other than his wife, there probably is no one Sandoval can trust more to carry out his directives than a guy who played with him on the merry-go-round during recess.

— Ed Vogel

MINDEN SENATOR NAMED ONE OF BEST

State Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, earlier this month in Chicago was named by the American Legislative Exchange Council as one of its eight legislators of the year.

Settelmeyer, a rancher who often wears a cowboy hat, is a conservative who never supports tax increases. He is known in the Legislature for his pleasant demeanor and never becoming riled up in dealing with liberal legislators.

His family has ranched in the Carson Valley for generations. Bald eagles visit the ranch late every winter to eat the afterbirth from the family’s cattle. Many people, most with cameras, gather outside the ranch fences to take photos.

Settelmeyer, 42, even spoke during the session on how one of his horses was killed by a bear, but the state Wildlife Department refused to give him a predator permit to shoot the bear.

In June, he was named the second best senator (to state Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks) in the Review-Journal’s poll of legislators, reporters and lobbyists.

He is the author of a new law that allows county commissions to pass ordinances that make it illegal, and levy fines, on children under age 18 who smoke. Settelmeyer testified that there are now smokers’ corners outside most high schools in Nevada and children deride police when they arrive and attempt to stop them from smoking.

But he failed to push through a bill to create Republican and Democratic presidential primary elections each January during presidential election years.

The exchange council’s legislator of the year award is given to lawmakers who have demonstrated a dedication to the principles of limited government, federalism, and free market principles. About one-third of state legislators belong to the organization, but critics such as former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale maintain the organization is the creation of the Koch brothers and holds unusual influence over its legislative members in passing model legislation that it endorses.

Settelmeyer said he has had a consistent conservative voting record since he joined the Legislature in 2007. He said liberal organizations also propose model legislation, but he finds it interesting that they do not come under the same degree of attacks as the American Legislative Exchange Council.

— Ed Vogel

STATE NAME GAME

For some reason, Nevada legislators at each session change the names of some state agencies — and for the next several years foul up the ability of people trying to reach them.

Take the state Health Division. It’s fine and easy to remember the name. Except legislators have decided to call it the Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

Nobody can seem to remember it, even reporters.

Unable to come up with the correct name, a Review-Journal Capital Bureau reporter decided to call the Department of Health and Human Services’ director’s office. The Division of Public and Behavioral Health falls under the control of that department.

But employees could not immediately answer the reporter’s question. A clearly embarrassed woman called around and then came up with the answer.

The department wanted the new name because the agency no longer deals with just health matters, but also mental health programs.

— Ed Vogel

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285. Follow him on Twitter @BenSpillman702. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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