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July 30, 2014

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Henderson:

First six months on the job present new Henderson city manager with plenty of challenges

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Leila Navidi

Jacob Snow, whose contract was approved to become the new Henderson city manager during the Henderson City Council meeting, greets people before the meeting at City Hall in downtown Henderson on Tuesday, March 20, 2012.

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When Jacob Snow accepted the job as Henderson’s city manager in March, it came at a tumultuous time for the city.

Councilwoman Kathleen Vermillion had resigned for personal reasons two months earlier amid a scandal involving the nonprofit she founded.

In February, a video was released showing a Henderson police officer kicking a man in a diabetic shock during a 2010 traffic stop, which led to a $158,000 settlement with the victim and the hurried retirement of Police Chief Jutta Chambers.

Snow also was faced with a $13.5 million city budget deficit that needed to be closed by June.

After nearly six months on the job, a new police chief has been hired, the budget has been balanced — at least until next year — and Snow said he’s just getting started.

One of his main areas of focus has been the Henderson Police Department, where Snow has spent significant time shadowing officers and learning the department's inner workings.

“I was really pleased with what I saw. I think the police department does an excellent job in virtually all areas they cover,” Snow said during a recent interview with the Sun in which he reflected on his first months in office.

Snow said the video of a Henderson police officer kicking the motorist hurt the department’s credibility, but he thinks the department can regain the public’s trust by having a strong, visible presence on the streets and focusing on customer service.

The biggest challenge facing the department is keeping enough officers on patrol in the face of budget cuts, Snow said. An ongoing study by the International City/County Management Association should be finished within the next few months, he said, and will be used to help the city restructure the department to cut costs.

“One of the reasons we wanted to do this external review was to give me, the mayor and the council an objective viewpoint into the police department and to identify areas where we can improve,” Snow said. “The initial feedback is we are going to take a look at how we schedule and staff to make sure we have adequate patrol officers.”

Snow is also looking to streamline other areas of the city’s government by consolidating departments, offering employee buyouts and eliminating redundant positions, changes he said could shave $2 million off the projected $6.5 million budget deficit the city is facing next year.

“One of the things the council tasked me to do in the first six months was to assess the entire organization and look for opportunities to take advantage of potential efficiencies,” he said. “In my assessment, there were some positions where there wasn’t enough work to support them.”

The city managed to close this year’s budget deficit through concessions from employee unions and the use of reserve funds, a strategy Snow said could only be relied on for a few more years.

Henderson has seen some positive signs of a return to economic normalcy, including increased interested from home-builders, but Snow said the recovery has been inconsistent.

“We’ll have an increase (in revenue) in certain months, and then in the next, we’ll see a decrease. It’s up and down,” he said. “All over the city we are seeing signs of homebuilders who are coming in looking to acquire and develop land … so that’s encouraging.”

The lingering effects of the recession have taken a toll on the physical infrastructure of Henderson, Snow said, and one of his major goals for the next several months will be finding ways to help beautify the city.

“We see problems with the deterioration of block walls, lack of sidewalks, landscaping that’s not being taken care of,” he said. “In the next six months, I’d like to see the city come back to the mayor and council with some options of how to stop that decline in our neighborhoods. Even though the economy has declined, we’d like to see how we can make some investments and engage our citizens in helping us maintain neighborhoods.”

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