Preparing to fill some big shoes

Preparing to fill some big shoes

Preparing to fill some big shoes

“I think she is going to be fantastic,” former City Manager and Engineer Steve West said of Alicia Heiser. Heiser was hired and has been on the job for several weeks now as Assistant City Manager-Engineer.

West retired October 4 but is continuing to consult part-time for the city to finish out some essential public works projects. West will also be working to train Heiser more fully in the human resources and budgeting portions of the position. When that is complete, the plan is for Heiser to move from “assistant,” to city manager-engineer in full.

When the city council went looking to replace West, they weren’t sure whether they’d be looking for two separate people — a city manager and a city engineer, or looking for someone who could continue to combine the duties of both jobs.

The council and Mayor Di An Putnam felt that combining the two positions worked very well for the past 35 years, with City Manager and Engineer Steve West. Council members have said repeatedly that West’s engineering background has saved city taxpayers many thousands of dollars.

“So much of what a city manager does hinges on public works and engineering, that the hiring committee decided to try to continue to combine the two,” West said. There was only one applicant for the job that they felt fit what they were looking for — Alicia Heiser.

Heiser is a Winnemucca native, which the council felt was an enormous benefit. Small town life isn’t for everyone and when someone who has grown up here leaves for higher education, works in a big city and then looks for an opportunity to move back, that’s pretty fantastic, said West.

Heiser heard that West was retiring a couple of years ago. She immediately sent emails to West and to the council expressing her interest in the position.

“Of those who applied, Heiser was the one the council felt had the best chance of working out for the long term,” West said. “Two of the applicants were from Las Vegas and had already had lengthy careers in public works. One who had engineering experience was from Florida. We felt it was a great advantage to hire someone who actually grew up in Winnemucca and had the potential to be a long-term city manager-engineer.”

Putnam said when the council sent out the call for applicants, they contacted Heiser. “I was excited to see that somebody had roots in Winnemucca and wanted to come back here and make this their home,” she said. “I felt that was a more permanent situation rather than a stepping stone, as with many in rural Nevada.”

Heiser’s engineering background is terrific, West said. She has a doctorate in civil engineering and has been working in New York. When Heiser found out about the city manager-engineer position in Winnemucca, she started taking additional classes in management and local government.

Councilman Mike Owens, who was on the hiring committee, said Heiser became a member of the International City County Management Association and completed 15 classes that included studying Nevada Revised Statutes and municipal codes, budgeting and human resources.

“Steve has left us in a great position, both financially and with infrastructure,” Owens said. “She can work with Steve two days a week and then work by herself and have a stack of questions he can help her answer.” Owens said the kind of background West has with agencies from the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection to the Federal Aviation Administration are two examples of specialized information that “can’t just be written in a book somewhere.”

“You have to have him here to help pass that information,” Owens said.

Council member Paige Brooks, also a member of the hiring committee, said what Heiser had done to prepare showed how committed she was to working in Winnemucca. Brooks said she was impressed that Heiser wasn’t stumped by any of the questions they asked her. “She was professional, prepared and so comfortable — it was obvious how much she wanted it.”

Heiser is also taking additional human resources training from the city’s insurance carrier, the Nevada Public Insurance POOL-PACT. “She is the caliber of person who can learn anything,” said Putnam.

West said when he was hired, he didn’t have a great deal of experience in human resources or budgeting — his strength was in engineering. He learned the other skills on the job.

He had been a civil engineer with Chilton Engineering in Elko but had no management experience. He said he’d had a little exposure to local government issues because Chilton had a contract to provide civil engineering services for the city of Ely. He worked as a consulting city engineer for projects there.

The city has permission from the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) for a 90-day waiver that allows West to continue to consult for Winnemucca while drawing retirement. If a longer period is needed, Putnam said they will apply for an extension.

“We’d like him to get us through the budget cycle and employee negotiations,” she said. West is working on an hourly basis, no more than a couple of days per week.

“We have the sewer plant and two other projects at a million-plus each,” Putnam said. “It’s so important to have his knowledge and background. I have some, Roger [Sutton, public works director] has some, but the two of us can’t compare to what Steve has to offer.”