Budget ax falls on Weir

Economic development director not included in city spending plan

KINGMAN - After a fiery budget meeting last month during which the mayor called out the economic development director on his failure to secure big business opportunities for Kingman, City Council voted 5-2 Monday to eliminate that position and department from next year's budget.

Council also approved the tentative budget for next year, one that totals $225 million and increases capital improvements by $84 million.

Economic Development Director Jeff Weir was hired out of Oro Valley, Ariz., by City Manager Paul Beecher in February of 2006. Since then he's built up potential for a freight center with Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, he's talked about the thousands of jobs that a Wal-Mart distribution center would bring to Kingman, and he's worked on a strategic plan outlining Kingman's "hopes and aspirations" for bringing in high-paying jobs in the future.

None of these have materialized, Mayor Les Byram said last month, and on top of that, he said he'd received several complaints about Weir.

"I have not seen anything that I can think of that has been accomplished," Byram said. He noted how the city paid for Weir and Special Projects Director Rob Owen to travel to Long Beach, Calif., and Chicago to visit the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, a trip that cost approximately $4,500. Weir gave a presentation following the visits and touted a freight center in Kingman.

"Then it came out in the paper that the railroad has no interest in the Kingman area, which (Vice Mayor Dave) French had told me six months ago they didn't have," Byram said.

"I've had more complaints, other than the Building Department, which comes with the position, more complaints of the economic development director than anybody else in the city," he added.

Finance Director Coral Loyd had told the mayor and Council that the 2007-08 budget did not include positions in the Building and Engineering departments or an assistant for the Economic Development Department, positions she said had been in the previous budget but had not been filled. Another position, an assistant in the Human Resources Department, will also be removed.

Byram said that "if we're going to start a reduction in force," Weir's position "is where we ought to start. But that's just my opinion."

Weir defended his position, stating that he's responsible first and foremost for networking and opening communication that previously had been closed.

He said the decision to bring him in as the economic development director was made "to begin to put in place a process that takes the city forward ... not something immediate,"

"I'll say this personally to the mayor and anybody else, that I am absolutely confident that the people we're talking with can deliver to this community what this community needs," he said. "And I can also tell you that some of them are there because of professional contacts that I have built" with 20 years of experience as an economic developer.

"I just can't think of how many other things ... I can just tell you at the end of the day, at the end of the month, I'm pretty damned tired for the time I put in for this community," Weir said.

On Monday, Councilman Tom Spear insisted that a vote be held on whether or not to eliminate Weir and his position. Spear and Councilman Ray Lyons voted to keep him, but the mayor and the four other members secured a majority.

Approximately $219,100 will be saved in next year's budget, although Loyd recommended keeping about $34,742 to cover the costs of removing that program. Economic development efforts in the community will continue, but duties will be distributed between the city manager and staff.

No new positions have been budgeted for next year.