Hataway trying to retire as deputy budget director
July 22, 2002
With most people who held stressful jobs, retirement shows. It’s like a huge weight lifted from their shoulders.
Don Hataway’s last day as deputy budget director was two weeks ago. But in his case, it’s a bit more difficult to tell because he’s always been the guy who kept his cool, smiled at lawmakers even when they were completely off base and calmly explained the administration’s point of view one more time.
“When it comes to stress, I’m a carrier,” he said reflecting on a career that has effectively had him in the hot seat all of his 20 years in Carson City.
Those who work with him say he has a black belt in dealing with elected officials. It’s a talent that came in handy during the 2001 Legislature after Budget Director Perry Comeaux suffered a heart attack. Hataway had to effectively take on the workload both of them normally handled, appearing daily before both Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means for more than two months until Comeaux recovered.
He came to the capital city in 1978 and was Carson City Manager for seven years. He said he learned there and in 10 years as city manager in Loveland, Colo., before that how to deal with elected officials who range from excellent to terrible.
“A manager learns early to quit hoping for better because you could get worse,” he said. “You took what the voters dealt you and made the best of it. And that applies to Ways and Means and Senate Finance too.”
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While many agency heads and other analysts look toward the legislative sessions with dread, Hataway says he enjoyed it.
“That was the easy part for me — the legislature,” he said.
His rules for dealing with lawmakers are pretty simple: “If they ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t try B.S. your way through it. They’ll see right through it.”
Experience, he says, taught him when and how to stand his ground. One key to success, he said, is not taking things personally and, instead, recognizing what is really going on.
“One thing I learned early is lots of times when they make statements that make you feel like jumping across the table and strangling them, they made them for the press or advocates,” he said.
He said he has a lot of respect for good legislators — in fact, good elected officials at any level.
After leaving the Carson City manager’s position in 1985, he made his only foray into private business, trying with several partners to recreate the Carson Brewing Co. He said between arguments among those involved in the project and the debt built up by the previous owners, the project was doomed.
By 1987, he signed on as a contract employee putting together the Tahoe Lands Acquisition program for State Lands. He did the job well enough that, by late 1988, the project was done and he recommended his position be eliminated.
Then-Budget Director Bill Bible agreed, but wanted to keep Hataway around so he moved him into the budget office. Since then, he has managed budget accounts that contain more than half the state’s general fund budget — K-12 public education and the University System. And for the past four years, he has been deputy budget director.
His knowledge of the K-12 distributive school fund, in fact, will probably delay his actual retirement. Comeaux wants to contract with Hataway to handle that budget this fall. In fact, Comeaux would still like to get Hataway to postpone actual retirement until the end of the 2003 session.
So far, Hataway says he’s resisting working through June.
Until he and Comeaux work out the details he said he’s enjoying the break — exercising a bit and catching up on a lot of reading.
In any event, he says he and his wife, Donna, aren’t going anywhere. Donna, who was honored last year with the presidential award for excellence in teaching math and science, still enjoys the classroom. They have one grandchild and another on the way. Hataway is still involved in the hospital facilities committee and active in Rotary.
“This is probably our permanent home,” he said.