The Snowmass Village Town Council on Feb. 3 ratified a contract with consultant Gary Suiter, agreeing to pay him $17,250 a month to act as town manager.
Suiter signed a contract on Jan. 21 that the council agreed to in a private meeting the night before. After an inquiry by this newspaper, a public discussion and vote to ratify his contract was placed on the council’s agenda for Feb. 3’s regular meeting.
The council members remained divided, 3-2, in the public vote, as they said they were in their other discussions. The council members in the minority, Jason Haber and Chris Jacobson, have said that allowing Suiter, who has been interim town manager since Aug. 1, to apply and some council members conferring with him outside negotiations marred the search process for a new town manager.
Jacobson also has said that the increase in Suiter’s compensation from his interim salary, which was $14,800 per month, “is irresponsible and indefensible.”
Suiter has agreed to a three-month term per the contract. The three-month terms will be renewed automatically unless he or the council terminates his employment, which can happen at any time. Suiter will work for a minimum of 138 hours a month, approximately 32 hours a week, and will earn overtime pay at a rate of $120 an hour for any time beyond that.
Councilman Fred Kucker, who voted to approve the contract, defended Suiter’s compensation. Before Suiter proposed the contract now agreed to, the council was considering an offer of full-time employment for Suiter, which Kucker said would have been more expensive were the Town Council to terminate Suiter. Some of the council members’ seats are up for election in November.
“I’ve seen a lot of contracts for independent contractors, and this is not really out of line,” Kucker added. “It’s within the town budget, also.”
Suiter’s compensation has increased dramatically, Jacobson said. He questioned whether the job could be performed at 32 hours a week.
“Four of your five monthly billings (while interim town manager) have overtime,” Jacobson said. “And you raised the overtime rate. … Everyone’s said we have all these major projects, it’s been quiet, and now we’re really getting going, and you yourself have said you haven’t really had the ability to do everything you want to do.”
Mayor Bill Boineau cut Jacobson off after about two minutes.
“I thought those were questions to Gary,” Haber said.
“I’m not asking Gary to respond to those questions, personally,” Boineau said. “I’m running the show, and I’m asking you if you have any comments.”
“This is a public dialogue about a proposal before this council,” Haber said. “I guess my comment would go to, like you (Boineau) said, we’re in this search process, we’re in this need for a town manager, because of a rift that existed on this council.”
Former Town Manager Russ Forrest resigned last summer to accept a new position in Gunnison County. One of the first items of business Suiter conducted as interim town manager was to facilitate a retreat to help improve the council’s dynamic, Haber said.
“Gary, … I think you said a lot of good things in terms of how a council should try and strive to work better together,” Haber said. “Unfortunately, I think this process, … I think we’ve set up a dynamic that creates the same problems that we had before we got into this process.”
Boineau replied by saying that Suiter had been dealing with some important issues, preventing him from doing everything he needed to in 32 hours a week.
“I would hope after this vote tonight that we will continue to work together to the benefit of the community, not our own personal feelings,” Boineau said.
After the vote, resident Gary Rosenau said it upset him to see a council whose members don’t get along with one another.
“And I’m talking to you,” Rosenau said, pointing at Haber.
Rosenau also took issue with a column written in the Snowmass Sun by part-time resident Mel Blumenthal, which was critical of the council’s actions.
“All he is is a bunch of talk put in a newspaper that nobody reads anyway,” Rosenau said. “It seems to me that you guys have to have a council where people work with each other and not against each other.”
Before moving on to his manager’s report, Suiter told the council that he will “continue to do my level best for this community.”
“I’ll do my best to pull you all together too,” he said.
“We’re in this search process, we’re in this need for a town manager, because of a rift that existed on this council.”
Snowmass Village Town Council