City hall

Aspen’s city manager is implementing a new structure for upper-level city hall management. The city is looking to hire one assistant city manager to handle departments providing outward-facing public services, while a new administrative services job will focus on internal departments.

Aspen City Manager Sara Ott has devised a new structure for city hall administration where more public-facing departments are clustered under the guidance of a single assistant manager.

That’s a change from the structure under former City Manager Steve Barwick, in which two assistant city managers split oversight of many of the departments that would be consolidated under one assistant manager. Barwick resigned at council’s request in January 2019, receiving a year’s pay in severance.

The new assistant city manager, who would make between $140,000 and $170,000 per year, according to a recruitment brochure, would be in charge of parks and recreation, transportation, Kids First (the city’s child care office), cultural arts/Wheeler Opera House, parking and the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority.

Instead of a second city manager, the city will create a new administrative services director position to oversee the functions of the clerk’s office, IT, procurement, human resources, communications and quality. That job will be posted internally “because we have some great talent within the organization,” Ott wrote in an email.

“In my evaluation of the organization, I see it as a more useful approach to only have one assistant city manager and have a second position, the administrative services director, that is more focused on internal services,” she wrote. “This is a common practice in local governments and responds to the needs of the organization and the community better than the previous or interim models.”

Ott settled on the new structure after months of deliberations informed by input from staff and the public. She said she believes it will facilitate better services for the community and better internal effectiveness, based on the new grouping of responsibilities under various senior-level officials. 

The city began accepting applications last week for the assistant city manager job; the “first application review” will take place on Feb. 28, but the city is committed to holding the position open until the right candidate is hired. That person will be “an experienced and seasoned leader who instills trust and confidence,” and a “team player [who] provides city leadership with thoughtful, accurate and timely information and recommendations,” the brochure says.

It continues, under the heading of “the ideal candidate”: “The successful candidate is a problem-solver who sees the big picture, identifies creative solutions and demonstrates sound judgment and decision-making skills. The assistant city manager manages multiple projects and deadlines, is detail oriented, technically savvy and demonstrates political acumen. The assistant city manager will also effectively oversee multiple departments while providing senior-level support to the city manager.”

In addition, “The assistant city manager fully appreciates Aspen’s rich history and is focused on moving the organization forward. This individual understands the importance of preserving the community’s culture and identity and recognizes the importance of balancing Aspen’s varied perspectives in order to accomplish city council’s priorities.”

And finally, “The model candidate is a strong communicator who can successfully engage with varied audiences and is resilient and calm in the face of controversy. This individual has experience in community outreach and civic engagement and understands the importance of not only providing the public with accurate and timely information, but in being accessible, responsive and transparent.”

Besides the new assistant city manager and administrative services director to be hired, there are a number of departments within the city whose directors are even on the organization flow chart with the assistant city manager and administrative services director. Under the new structure, those are community development, police, public works and finance. That is similar to Barwick’s structure, with the difference that the human resources director reported directly to Barwick, whereas that person will now report to the administrative services director.

Also, the clerk’s office — soon to be under the purview of the administrative services director — used to report directly to the city attorney, which is the only other position in city hall directly hired and fired by Aspen City Council.

 The new assistant city manager will have a “span of control” for 145 full-time-equivalent employees and $45 million in expenditure authority. 

For fiscal year 2020, the city has an operating budget of $112 million and the organization has approximately 326 full-time-equivalent employees. 

After Ott took on the role of interim city manager, she named Human Resources Director Alissa Farrell and Public Works Director Scott Miller as interim assistant city managers. Both maintained their positions as heads of their respective departments throughout the interim, while serving as assistant city managers.

Ott also hired former Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc as a special projects manager — which is defined as a short-term job — to develop solutions to address the community’s shortage of child care options and locally serving retail. As that is a term-limited job, it is not reflected in the new organizational structure included in the assistant city manager recruitment brochure.

Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at curtis@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.