Mike McKibbin

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January 23, 2013
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Rifle manager ready to 'get back to my roots'

Life can be said to take one in circles. That can be interpreted in positive or negative ways.

For John Hier, it's been nothing but positive as he and Melissa, his wife of 16 years, get ready to move back to where Hier was born and raised on the family farm.

"We've been planning to retire for a number of years," Hier, Rifle's city manger for the last nine years, said a day after announcing his plans to City Council on Jan. 16. "We've bought a home in Lincoln, Neb., where I grew up and I still have family there."

"I think it's just time to get back to my roots a bit," Hier added. "The family farm needs a little attention, too. And we wanted to go in the spring, so we could get a garden growing."

With his wife seated by his side at the end of the City Council meeting, Hier announced "It's time to put me out to pasture." He will retire from full time work in city management but has been asked to work part time in municipal government in the Lincoln area.

Mayor Jay Miller led a brief standing ovation for Hier after his announcement.

Hier, 62, said he will also pursue more leisurely activities while helping run the family's 500-acre farm.

"There's fish to be caught, a garden to be grown and pheasants to be hunted," Hier told council.

"I also have a tropical fish hobby I haven't had time to do in recent years," Hier added a day later.

Melissa Hier said she enjoyed living in Rifle for the last nine years.

"It was a hard decision to decide to move," she said.

John Hier praised city staff and council members he worked with over the last nine years.

"The can-do attitude of everyone has just been exemplary," Hier said. "From the City Council to all employees, I've seen that everyone works in concert to promote community development programs and look for ways to get things done."

College leads to career change

Hier attended the University of Nebraska and was majoring in city planning when he learned of a public administration degree that required 45 hours of course work compared to 60 hours. Hier earned a bachelors and a masters degree.

Hier will wrap up a 29-year career in municipal government management. Before heading up Rifle City Hall, Hier was Carbondale city manager for nine years. He also worked in Abilene, Kan. for 10 years and was the assistant city manager in Ardmore, Okla. before taking the Carbondale job.

Like most people who move to Colorado, Hier had visited the state to ski, go backpacking, fish and camp. So when the Carbondale job became available, he applied and was hired.

Hier said he moved from there to Rifle "when I saw some opportunities for a pretty good growth boom. I wanted to help build a community, get its infrastructure in line."

The projects Rifle accomplished during Hier's tenure include Centennial Park, the public safety building for Rifle police and municipal court, utility improvements, the three roundabouts at I-70 and Airport Road.

"I don't think there's any one thing I'm most proud of," Hier said. "Just building community and infrastructure. Everybody here has always had that 'can-do' attitude."

"Even when the recession hit, we still completed all the projects we had on the books at the time," Hier continued. "Centennial Park and the Brenden Theaters, for example. I think we've helped Rifle businesses grow."

Optimistic outlook for Rifle

Rifle's downturn in sales tax revenue over the last three quarters of 2012 was not a factor in Hier's decision to retire.

"And I believe there will be an uptick in the energy industry in 2014," Hier said. "At least that's what we've been told. Nothing like last time, but a little bump."

At one time, the city was overseeing projects funded at least partly by a dozen grants related to the energy industry, Hier added.

"We saw the recession coming, so we made adjustments immediately," he said. "Unfortunately, that involved some lay offs and some positions that were vacant were not filled. So I think we're a leaner, meaner organization."

Hier's advice to his successor is to work on building strong relationships with city staff and city council.

"Get to know the community's values so you know what people are looking for from city hall," he said. "Staff needs the resources to do their jobs, then you just get out of the way and let them do it."

Between now and his last day at city hall, Hier said he hoped to get plans for the new $25 million water treatment plant approved by state and area agencies, so construction can start this spring.

"Council has said we need to get bids on that before we do anything with the [New Ute Events Center], but that's something else I hope to see started," Hier said.

Looking for successor in house first

City Council decided to follow the city personnel code, which allows in-house applicants to seek the position over a five-day period that started earlier this week. If a suitable candidate is found, the position may not be advertised more broadly, Hier said. The final decision on Hier's successor will be up to the City Council.

Miller noted that if an in-house candidate were found, he or she could quickly start working with Hier for a smooth transition.

"I was elected to this council in September of 2003 and the first thing we had to do was hire a new city manager," Councilman Jonathan Rice said after Hier's announcement. "I think we made a great choice."

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The Post Independent Updated Jan 23, 2013 05:44PM Published Jan 23, 2013 05:42PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.