Las Vegas Sun

February 18, 2018

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North Las Vegas shake-up elicits a new interim city manager

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Steve Marcus

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee and Ryann Juden, then intergovernmental affairs/chief of staff, look over a map in his office at North Las Vegas City Hall in this file photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

Click to enlarge photo

Qiong Liu

North Las Vegas Assistant City Manager Ryann Juden was promoted to interim city manager by the city council Wednesday, succeeding the woman who last week attempted to fire him before rescinding her decision and retiring.

The shakeup has brought renewed attention to the relationship between Juden and Mayor John Lee and sparked calls of cronyism within local government. Juden and Lee are longtime church friends who previously worked together in politics.

Juden has been assistant city manager since August 2015. Prior to that, Juden was chief of staff — a position that did not exist at the city until shortly after Lee was elected mayor in 2013.

On Jan. 9, then-City Manager Qiong Liu emailed a memo to department directors and members of city council announcing Juden had been “fired effective immediately.” The memo states the two met the day prior and Juden had told her “to either resign or be fired” because city council had reached a consensus that her services were no longer needed.

City managers are appointed by city council. The city manager then hires the employees who work underneath them, though some positions (including assistant city manager) are ratified by city council.

In her email to city leaders, Liu expressed concern about being forced out without a public hearing per open-meeting laws. She also acknowledges in her email that retaliation may be forthcoming but that she felt she needed to act in the best interest of the city.

“(Juden) has failed to change from a private political advisor to a government administrator,” she wrote. She also alleges his actions “interfered with political processes including elections” and “undermined my authority, department directors’ work efforts, and contract negotiations.”

A day after sending the explosive email, Liu rescinded her firing and worked out a resignation with the city. She is currently on a 30-day paid administrative leave. Her official date of retirement is Feb. 9.

“It was all a little shocking,” said Councilman Isaac Barron, who said he was unaware of any conflicts between Liu and Juden prior to the memo being released. “We had always seen them as a good team.”

As assistant city manager, Juden earns an annual salary of $151,938. With his promotion to interim city manager, he will receive a 5 percent pay increase — a standard raise set in the city charter.

Speaking to news media after the meeting, Juden suggested there was more to the ousting of his predecessor than is publicly known, but he did not elaborate. He characterized his disagreements with Liu as “normal” and “healthy” and said his priority was moving the city forward for as long as he is needed.

He joked that his wife hopes it will be a short stint.

“A lot of things stopped or paused,” said Juden of the past week without a city manager. “There’s plenty for me to do.”

The council did not discuss how long it might be for a permanent city manager to be named.

The mayor offered no comments during the meeting and did not make himself available to the press afterward.

Other council members during the meeting stressed that the vote was only to make Juden the interim city manager and that future decisions would be made regarding a permanent replacement.

“We need someone right now,” said Barron. “I don’t know where we will go in the future.”