Former Utahn Albert E. Haines was known in Salt Lake City as a flood-tamer and Wilson-handler.

Haines, Salt Lake's first and only chief administrative officer, was ousted three years ago in a change of political leadership. Now he has moved on to Texas-sized targets.Last month, Haines took over as director of finance and administration for Houston, the fourth largest city in the nation. He'll work for a city with nearly 20,000 employees, a staff the size of the entire population of St. George.

"By every calculation - except geographic - the city of Houston is basically bigger than the entire state of Utah," said Haines in a telephone interview. "It not only blows my mind, but it's a little scary, too."

In Salt Lake City, at a base salary of $50,000, Haines managed a budget of nearly $200 million. In contrast, just three years later, the Houston job comes with a $90,000 annual salary, and Haines will have his hands on a budget as massive as the spreading state: $1.5 billion.

Haines' most pressing task will be to close a $35 million gap in the city's operating budget. It's a challenge he relishes. "We don't have more money to pour. And we need to start making some tough decisions."

Former Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson hired Haines from Orem City in 1980 as Salt Lake's director of finance and administrative services. Haines retained that hat but quickly added another, newly created one: city chief administrative officer.

Some critics said that left Wilson with just rock-climbing and ribbon-cutting duties. Haines' fingerprints from his five-year Salt Lake stint are evident throughout the city's official policy handbook.

At Salt Lake City Hall, some perceived Haines as a kingdom-builder who took care of the underlings who followed his commands. He was known for his professional competence - and his mayor-sized ego.

Haines was asked to resign in November 1985, after appointed Mayor Palmer DePaulis was elected to fill the rest of Wilson's term. DePaulis cited a difference in management styles, saying he wanted to maintain more contact with his department heads. While the mayor installed his campaign manager, Mike Zuhl, as chief of staff for the mayor's office, the city's CAO post has never filled.

Haines took a big chunk of severance pay with him as a result of a policy he had authored, just one of 11 city bosses who left Salt Lake within a 2 1/2-year period and claimed a pot of $365,000 in buyoffs. Another Haines-authored executive pay plan kept executives annual salaries reasonable, but the favored among the city's top brass could expect fat bonus checks of up to $3,000 per year.

Haines defends the executive compensation policies, saying he didn't write them. Rather, he just coordinated the direction of the mayor and city council. But he believes strong severance policies should be in place - making the cost of political expediency high - to ensure a high level of non-partisan professionalism at City Hall.

"City Hall, unlike state and federal levels of government, functions best when it is managed by competent professionals, accountable to an electorate, but not subservient to it," Haines said.

Haines spent three months as a consultant - earning $6,000 a month - in Sandy City before he was recruited for a city manager job in Beaumont, Texas.

His family has adjusted to life in southeastern Texas. "We have found, in a different way, as much satisfaction and pleasure living in Beaumont as we ever did in Utah. That's not to say that we don't miss our time in Salt Lake. We do. We miss our friends. We miss the country."

Haines said Utahns need to recognize they are in a competitive environment with the rest of the country in terms of economic development. The drawing cards of family heritage and a breath-taking physical setting have to be augmented by commitments to education and to the state's infrastructure.