After nearly 40 years working for the city, first as a beat cop, then police chief and finally city manager, Richard Miranda is calling it quits this summer. The Star sat down with Miranda this week to ask him about his accomplishments, what’s in store for the next city manager and where will he go after he leaves the 10th floor for good on July 31.
Why retire now?
Miranda chose the date because it falls just after one of the city’s crowning achievements of the past decade kicks off — the July 31 start date for streetcar service.
“I want to be a part of that because I think that is one of the major accomplishments of the city of Tucson,” Miranda said.
When he assumed control of the city in 2012, city management lacked stability and direction, and as a result, citizens’ trust waned in their government, Miranda said.
“My No. 1 goal was to rebuild that trust with the community,” He said. “I felt we had accomplished that. So sitting down with family and talking over the issues, we felt it was the right time.”
Miranda lists the streetcar project coming to fruition, a revitalized downtown and the voter-approved $100 million road-repair bond among his more visible successes.
“For me that (road bond) approval was a vote of confidence that we could get the job done and had the ability to accomplish the mission of that project,” he said.
Miranda said other achievements might not be readily apparent, but they are significant nonetheless.
“When I see my employees talk about the mission statement of providing quality services to our community, those are accomplishments because three or four years ago there was a vagueness in terms of what our mission was,” he said.
“To be able and go out within the organization and communicate that our community is one that we have to be concerned about, we have to listen to our citizens and having (everyone) understand that is really one we had to work on.”
Cleaning up mismanagement in the Streets Department and at the Tucson Convention Center:
Miranda said those two issues were paramount in restoring both citizens’ and employees’ faith that city management was serious about correcting past problems.
“When those issues did come up, we dealt with them rapidly,” he said. “For the community to see that we were righting the ship in those areas really gives confidence that we’re doing the right thing.
Advice for the next city manager?
The next city manager will be held accountable for ensuring the city’s core services (transportation, public safety, parks and water) are maintained at optimum levels, Miranda said.
“You have to make sure you’re doing those things right,” he said. “There are other areas in city government that are very important but basic service delivery, making sure those areas have adequate resources and at the same time having a vision for the future is one that has to be aggressively pursued.”
How to solve the pension problem?
Taxpayers are on the hook for about $1 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. Next fiscal year alone, the city will pay $83.4 million for its pensions. The most worrisome pension plans, police and fire, are both funded under 50 percent. Miranda said those two pose a difficult problem because they are controlled by the state. He said the next manager will have to work closely with the police and fire unions to find some relief.
“I don’t know of the magic bullet that can deal with pensions other than there will be a time 10,15, 20 years from now that it might self-correct,” he said. “The issue of pensions is one every community is dealing with and we have to understand that those commitments were signed many years ago and the fundamental problem is how do we fund those commitments.”
What will you miss most?
“I’m going to miss the people who work for the City of Tucson. I have many friends that I’ve grown up with in this organization. It really becomes difficult to think about not seeing them on a daily basis. I have 5,000 employees that go out every single day to do what’s best to serve our community. And not being able to be at the helm of our ship to watch that and feel that and provide direction is what I’m going to miss.”
“I need to go back and find Dickie Miranda. I heard he was a pretty good guy who liked to drink whiskey and listen to Bob Dylan. Maybe I’ll take some time and try to find him.”