Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 2 a.m.
New North Las Vegas interim City Manager Qiong Liu isn’t afraid of a challenge.
Liu left behind a lucrative engineering career in the private sector to work in government because she wanted to solve problems that affect people’s daily lives.
She’ll have plenty of problems to address in her new role as North Las Vegas’ top executive. Only a few months ago, the city teetered on the edge of insolvency and still faces a long-term budget deficit of $150 million over the next seven years.
Liu took over the top job from interim city manager Jeff Buchanan in June. She had previously served as deputy city manager, public works director and deputy public works director.
Job: Interim city manager
Education: Bachelor's degree in civil engineering, master's degree in transportation economics and Ph.D. in civil/systems engineering
Background: Born and raised in Beijing, Liu came to the United States in 1990 to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona. She spent eight years as a transportation consultant before working for governments in Florida and Nevada. She has published 18 papers on transportation and system engineering related topics.
The city hasn’t had a permanent city manager since August 2013 and seems in no rush to find one. The council hasn’t discussed the issue publicly, and a city spokesman said there’s no timeline to fill the position.
The Sun sat down with Liu to talk about her new job and the city’s future. Her answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you end up in North Las Vegas?
I was born and raised in Beijing and went to school there. I came to this country in 1990 to attend graduate school. In 1999, I came to Las Vegas and made a presentation at an international transportation conference. I was recruited to work at the city of Las Vegas and worked there five and a half years before I was hired in North Las Vegas.
Why make the switch from the private sector to the public sector?
I always thought as an engineer if you focus on public infrastructure, it makes a much greater difference. In the private sector, you’re working on a specific project for a client, and your client’s needs are more important in general than the public’s needs. I felt there was something else I really wanted to pursue, and that was really making a difference in the day-to-day lives of people.
North Las Vegas was nearly taken over by the state earlier this year and still faces long-term financial problems. Why take a job where you’ll have to deal with all those headaches?
Until last year, I’d always been more of an engineering and technical expert. Overseeing one department is different from overseeing six or seven departments and now the entire city. It’s definitely a much bigger challenge and a much bigger role to play. I’m always inspired to be challenged and to make a greater difference if I’m able to.
What are the biggest challenges facing North Las Vegas right now?
The first one is still financial stability. A few months back, we were still in a financial crisis because of all the issues out there, the disputes and lawsuits with unions and all that.
Even though we have a balanced budget, we still have a lot of work ahead of us to deliver that plan and make sure it becomes reality.
The second part is customer service and internal efficiency. We can’t move forward by adding more bodies or more resources; that’s not something we can afford. Some of the changes we make may not be easy and sometimes could be painful, but we have to look at what is beyond today in order to make those tough decisions and sacrifices.
What does North Las Vegas have going in its favor?
If you look at a map, you will see half of the land in North Las Vegas is vacant. If you look at Las Vegas and Henderson, they’re limited in the ways they can grow. North Las Vegas is an exception. We have an opportunity to determine what kind of city we want to be by growing sensibly and sustainably.
What are the city’s goals for the upcoming legislative session? Will it revive past attempts to change the tax distribution formula?
The subject of changing the consolidated tax formula has been on the table for many years, and North Las Vegas has tried it multiple times and failed.
Because of the huge (budget) gap we have to face by 2021, we definitely need some help from the state. It would be nice if we could get some help from other jurisdictions on consolidated tax, but I’m not sure how far we can push that issue because everybody is facing the same problems.