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Timing wrong to replace city attorney, city manager

I write regarding the current effort to terminate the city manager and city attorney. The City Council’s present activity really comes as no surprise, as shortly after the last municipal election newly elected council members talked around town about firing the city clerk, city manager and city attorney.

What is a surprise is the timing of the effort. Boulder City is in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and an accompanying economic disaster the likes of which this community has probably never seen.

The city’s finance director has been quoted as estimating perhaps a 40 percent decline in revenues to the city. This economic disaster has yet to fully unfold and may turn out even worse that the 40 percent estimate. Unemployment in Southern Nevada is higher than at any point in living memory, business shutdowns and vanished paychecks have flushed sales tax revenues down the toilet, and local government has not yet even seen the effects of the economic collapse on property tax revenues.

Tax revenue distribution in Nevada to local government tends to lag behind collection by about two months, so the city began to see sales tax revenues crash in May or June. The effects on local government property taxes will take longer to assess. The first installment of 2020-21 property taxes (following the August 2020 first property tax deadline) should be received by the city around the end of September or the first part of October. This first installment of property tax revenue is normally well over half of the whole year’s revenue, as many property owners will normally pay all their tax for the year in August.

We will see if the COVID-19 economic crash will result in higher-than-normal deferrals of property tax payments. Should that be the case, property tax payment deferrals will also affect the city’s first property tax distribution in September or October, causing another negative impact on the city’s normal cash flow.

However the revenue decline turns out, it is going to be serious, it will have a profound impact on city operations, and it needs to be handled with all the skill the city can bring to the problem.

Whatever individual members of the City Council think about the city manager and the city attorney, these two officials certainly know a good deal more about the operational and legal affairs of the city than do any members of City Council. If they are fired, the city loses their special knowledge and skills — and these will be sorely needed to get the city through the pandemic and the economic collapse.

If they are fired, council will eventually hire a replacement city manager and a replacement city attorney. These new officers will be, for all intents and purposes, beginners. I do not think Boulder City needs beginners running the city in the midst of the problems we face.

I do not doubt the City Council’s authority to fire the city manager and the city attorney; both are “at will” employees and occupy their positions subject to the council’s pleasure. But I don’t think it is a good idea to fire either one at this point.

I think the best thing the City Council can do, right now, is drop the whole thing and try to reforge a working relationship with the city manager and the city attorney. Failure to do that is likely to result in a whopping big amount of money going out the door as the city manager and city attorney depart — money which the city can ill afford, by the way. And when the dust settles and replacements for the then-former city manager and city attorney ultimately are found, the city’s operations and legal affairs will be handled by beginners.

Council could not have picked a worse time to do this.

Duncan R. McCoy is a Boulder City resident. He served on the City Council from 2009 to 2017.

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