For the past two days, the city of Aspen hosted engagement sessions to receive public input on the “desired qualities” of the municipality’s next city manager. According to last week’s Aspen Daily News story on the matter, the discussion points for these sessions included Aspen’s current and future challenges, service priorities, the future manager’s communication, management and leadership style, and philosophy around community involvement.
If you missed those sessions and had not yet composed your thoughts on the matter, you might be too late, because the city’s head-hunter firm, Peckham and McKenney, planned to summarize the community input between the end of Tuesday’s last session at 1:45 p.m. and the beginning of council’s study session, which was scheduled to start just over two hours later at 4 p.m.
My question is simple. Why the rush? This community-input element seems out of sequence to me since the current council includes three members, Bert Myrin, Adam Frisch and term-limited Mayor Steve Skadron, a majority, who won’t be involved in hiring Aspen’s next city manager. Three new members, Mayor-elect Torre and council members-elect Rachel Richards and Skippy Mesirow, take office June 10.
According to last week’s story, the newly elected council members are also participating in similar input sessions along with city staff. But what remains unclear, unless it was perhaps clarified last night, is if the yet-to-be seated city council will have a similar opportunity to formally receive input from the community about this singularly important hiring decision, after they are seated. I hope they do because council members hiring the new manager are the ones who need to hear from the community.
Besides, it seems to me that, to date, Aspen’s process for hiring its next city manager is not only proceeding out of sequence, it is missing a step. In order to identify the most important qualities in a new city manager, it’s important for the council to first consider Aspen’s driving characteristics as a community, and I don’t mean its awesome qualities, which are many and varied. Those qualities don’t represent the rough edges and sticking points that the new manager will have to navigate.
No, I am referring to qualities that are difficult to discuss. First and foremost, societally, Aspen has over the past many decades gone from being mostly a haven of inclusiveness and acceptance to, among other more honorable things, a collection of socially and economically discrete, stridently stovepiped, inwardly focused clans, including the ever-growing workforce housing dwellers, the dwindling free-market working class, the longtime locals, the Red Mountain overseers, and my group, the downvalley carpetbaggers (you’ll understand why I made up all of those names momentarily).
More and more these clans avoid intermingling, tolerating one another’s presence in order to benefit from their version of this spectacular place, be it work, play, music, art, nature or leisure. But occasionally, their tolerance morphs into mutual disdain. And yes, local government policy and practice have, along with their innumerable benefits, played a role in Aspen’s decades-long march toward societal stratification.
None of that was created, or can be undone, by any one person, let alone a new city manager. But perhaps a city manager with the right qualities can help to bridge some of Aspen’s societal chasms and unlock even more constructive forward motion for what remains a great community. And it seems to me that the person to do it would be someone like Ferris Bueller.
The late John Hughes’ coming-of-age movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” uses three high school friends who skip class as a platform for a humorous examination of the societal strains faced by suburban high schoolers of the materialistic 1980s. The main character, Ferris Bueller, serves as the ringleader, always a step ahead of principal Ed Rooney, who seeks to punish him for his truancy. But Rooney can never quite catch up to Bueller, whose support seems universal. In one scene, Rooney’s secretary, Grace, describes the respect Bueller has earned from all of the cliquish groups in his stereotypical suburban, angst-driven high school.
“He’s very popular, Ed, the sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, &!@#heads, they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.”
No, Aspen is not an angst-driven high school, and it should not hire a high school senior as its next city manager. But Bueller would have graduated from high school in 1986. So today he would be in his early ’50s, a grown-up.
His hometown is Chicago, and having a Chicago connection in Aspen is always helpful. Besides, someone like Bueller probably would have ended up in private equity, so chances are he’d have a house here already. That would solve the problem of where to house the next city manager, thanks to the year-long, city-owned housing occupancy granted by the outgoing city council to the former city manager as part of his severance.
More importantly, Bueller demonstrated over 30 years ago the instinct to gain the respect of a diverse set of societal groups. Some might even call them clans. So, over the years he likely would have perfected that instinct into an ability to marshal disparate forces toward trust and collaboration.
And all kidding aside, if there are two things Aspen could benefit from when it comes to its next city manager, they are trust and collaboration. And if he, or she, can lip-sync Beatles songs during local parades, all the better, because male or female, a righteous dude is a righteous dude.