A candidate profile that will be used to recruit Aspen’s next city manager should be out for distribution by Memorial Day, and will consist of input gathered from the public, city staff, and current and incoming city council members over the past two days by a recruitment firm consultant.
“The decision to schedule three community listening sessions … this early in a process is something that I’ve seen only in Aspen, and you should take full pride in that,” Drew Gorgey of Peckham & McKenney told council during a work session Tuesday night.
Gorgey said an account set up for public input received about 20 emails, and about 20 members of the public attended the open listening sessions. He also held three separate listening sessions for city employees and met one on one with each member of the current council and the three incoming members who are to be sworn in June 10.
He told the council that the input he received from all three sectors aligned. The common theme was that the new manager will need to repair communication channels between the government and the public.
“It appears that both sides of the equation have sort of moved away from this ideal relationship,” Gorgey said. “Regardless of the values and priorities and strategic objectives that the new council sets and that you continue to pursue, it’s a priority for all concerned to get this citizen-engagement piece back into its proper alignment.”
Gorgey read a list of terms citizens suggested the ideal candidate should have, including “courage” and being an “extrovert.”
Mayor Steve Skadron took issue with the notion that the city manager should have a public persona. He said citizens don’t have a proper understanding of what the role is supposed to be.
“I want to remind the community that the city manager is not the face of the city, that’s the mayor and the council,” Skadron said. “The city manager role is, in a sense, the most important person in the city you’ve never heard of.”
Skadron is term-limited and will not be in office by the time the city manager is hired.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins, who has two years left of her term, disagreed with the mayor.
“The city manager to me is the one that is in charge of the day-to-day operations, so he or she does have to have a very prominent presence in the community,” Mullins said.
There was also a clear divide between the current council and the incoming members regarding the appropriate compensation range for the position. On Tuesday, the council approved the job posting with a salary of $180,000 to $214,000, plus benefits. Alissa Farrell, human resources director and interim assistant city manager, told the council that the numbers were derived from public-sector data and from her department’s own survey of comparable towns. They looked at recent hires in towns that had a similar budget and a similar number of city staff. Eagle and Steamboat Springs have both recently hired new city managers at salaries of $196,000.
Incoming Councilwoman Rachel Richards and incoming Mayor Torre attended the work session, and both said the high end of the range was too high. They felt advertising the job with a pay scale that is higher than they are comfortable with will cause negotiation problems down the line, when they oversee the job offer this fall.
“Boy, when people see the high end of the range they think, ‘That’s what I’m worth,’” Richards said. “I just don’t want to be interviewing a lot of people who then walk away and say, ‘Well, I wanted the $210,000 instead of the $180,000.’”
Applications for the position are due July 8, with an executive session to discuss top candidates scheduled for July 30.
Outgoing Councilman Adam Frisch asked Gorgey how the city staff’s responses compared to those of the public and the elected officials. Gorgey said the staff came well prepared and with an energy that the next city manager is lucky to have. He said they listed a number of qualities they were looking for to reshape the workplace culture.
“You could use a lot of words: realignment, return to a values-based, mission-driven organization, efficiency, modernization, leadership, management, and it’s not like you didn't have those things before. It’s just every transition is a tremendous opportunity,” Gorgey said. “They want to feel that their contribution is more than just a line item.”
Editor's note: This story initially reported the wrong figure for the salaries of the new Eagle and Steamboat Springs city managers and has been updated.