John Hier, former Rifle city manager, dead at 67
Those who worked with John Hier describe him as a natural leader with a calm demeanor.
Hier, who served as Rifle city manager for nine years and Carbondale town manager for nine years before coming to Rifle, died from a heart attack Thursday at his residence in Battlement Mesa. He was 67.
During his nine years at the helm of Rifle City Hall, Hier oversaw the construction of the city’s new wastewater treatment facility and other infrastructure projects made possible by increased revenues spurred by a boom in the energy industry.
“John, in my opinion, was the highest degree of a professional that you could ask for in the capacity he served,” said Keith Lambert, who served as Rifle mayor for 10 years, seven of which were with Hier as city manager. “He always took the interests and direction that the City Council gave and put it into action, and as a result our community has grown and changed and progressed.”
Lambert recalled at the time of Hier’s hiring in 2004, council gave him two weeks to come up with an agreement for relocating Cooper Field. The county was constructing a new health and human services building and council wanted it located near the fairgrounds — its current location — as opposed to near the Rifle-Garfield County Regional Airport. It was a trial by fire, Lambert said.
“And he pulled it off. It was a masterful piece of work, and throughout the entire time I was with the city I continually harkened back to that event as a crowning achievement, although there were many others after the fact. To be able to do that was unbelievable.”
Hier was hired in Rifle after nine years as town manager in Carbondale, where he demonstrated the same level of faith in the department heads working for him, but still made himself accessible, said Mark Chain, owner of Mark Chain Consulting LLC and former longtime town planner in Carbondale. At the time, the political climate in the town was contentious, and Hier indicated he wanted to work for a more united council, which he found in Rifle, Chain said. It was hard to see him go.
“We weren’t happy (when he left). He was just a good manager to be working for and, like I said, the times were pretty contentious in Carbondale at that time. … He was just a good steady hand on the rudder,” Chain said.
He was a mentor, said Rifle City Manager Matt Sturgeon, who was hired after Hier retired in 2013.
“I really respected how he conducted himself as city manager,” Sturgeon said. “He taught me a lot and I’m grateful for that, and I’m certainly saddened to hear of his passing.”
Outside of work, he enjoyed gardening, hiking, running, fishing and other outdoor activities, according to Lambert and others.
After he retired, Hier and his wife Melissa moved to Nebraska where he grew up.
“I think it’s just time to get back to my roots a bit,” he said in a 2013 interview.
The couple resided in Cortland, Nebraska, and divorced in August 2014, according to records published in the Beatrice Daily Sun. Hier moved to Battlement Mesa earlier this year.
His hiring in Rifle was one of the first significant issues for Councilor Jonathan Rice, who was elected in 2003 just before the formal search process for a city manager started. While there were several other candidates who had similar levels of experience, it was clear in the end that Hier was the right choice, Rice said.
“When I look back at the decision,” he added, “I didn’t know then — because I was a brand new councilman and really didn’t know much — he was a lot better (city) manager than I think we realized at the time.”
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