Gov. Norm Bangerter's chief of staff says he is resigning because he feels he has accomplished what he was hired to do.

Reed T. Searle, a former member of Democratic Gov. Scott Matheson's administration, was hired in August 1987 to help Bangerter's image, which had suffered terribly because of a record tax increase. Bangerter came back from a 30-point deficit in public opinion polls to win re-election last week over Democratic challenger Ted Wilson."I was asked to come on 15 months ago to do a specific thing," Searle said Wednesday. "I think I've accomplished that."

Searle, who just returned from private meetings with Bangerter in St. George, declined to say whether Bangerter had asked him to stay.

"I don't like talking about personnel issues," he said. "He (Bangerter) hasn't asked me to go."

Searle, who also worked for Democratic Gov. Scott Matheson during the 1970s, declined to say when he would leave. He said he would remain on the staff until Bangerter hires a replacement.

The resignation led state officials and lawmakers to speculate Wednesday over who would replace Searle. The name most frequently mentioned was Dave Buhler, Bangerter's campaign manager and a former administrative assistant.

Searle is expected to resume his career as a lobbyist. Before joining Bangerter's staff, he was the chief lobbyist for the Intermountain Power Project, a joint public-private venture that operates a 1,500-megawatt, coal-fired power plant near Delta.

Searle said he believes Bangerter has overcome the problems that plagued him 15 months ago and that his second term will be easier than the first.

"Can you think of any statewide problems that are facing us?" he said.

Other than the tax problem, Bangerter was plagued during his first term with a decline in the state's oil and mining industry and with record rains that prompted him to approve construction of huge pumps to lower the Great Salt Lake. By the time the pumps were in place, the state was in the midst of a drought.

But the tax increase was Bangerter's biggest public relations problem. Conservative Republicans felt alienated by the move, which inspired a taxpayer protest movement and led Salt Lake businessman Merrill Cook to leave the party and run for governor as an independent.

Searle said he is optimistic about the economy. He hopes the state will work to make Utah a center for the aerospace industry during the next four years.

Searle began his government career in 1973 as a legislative research analyst. He was named executive secretary of the state Energy Conservation and Development Council in 1977. Two years later, Matheson appointed Searle to head the Department of Community and Economic Development.

Searle joined IPA in 1980. He originally was hired by Bangerter as a senior aide, but later replaced Jon Memmott as chief of staff after Memmott left to join a political consulting firm.