Barnett leaving Carbondale Town Hall after 30 years
Ryan Summerlin February 10, 2013
CARBONDALE – Town Finance Director Nancy Barnett, who holds the record for continuous employment at Town Hall, concedes that three decades might be a long time to work at one place.
But that place has been Carbondale, after all, regularly cited as one of the most pleasant and livable towns in the region.
And for a considerable part of her 30 years at Town Hall, she had a view of majestic Mount Sopris from her office window.
“Now, I just get to see the clouds,” she said of her south-facing window, which looks across Colorado Avenue and directly at the four-story Town Center building. “Actually, I didn’t ever have much time to look anyway.”
Barnett, 66, will walk out the front door of Town Hall for the last time, as an employee, on March 1.
“It’s a little scary,” she said. “Actually, it’s awfully scary. It was a hard decision to make, but I knew if I didn’t set a date I’d be here another year.”
Her looming departure is making her co-workers a little nervous, too.
“It’s not just her expertise in finance that we’re losing,” current Town Clerk Cathy Derby said. “It’s the 30 years of history that she has in her head. We’re losing that, as well.”
Derby recalled a recent moment when Recreation Director Jeff Jackel needed to know, right away, what year Carbondale was established, for a grant application he was writing.
“I told him I don’t know,” Derby said, and added, “Nancy will know.”
Barnett happened to walk by at that moment, Derby said, and answered without pausing, “1887.”
In response to further questioning from Derby, Barnett expanded on her thesis.
“‘There are some people who are saying it was incorporated in 1888, and that’s the date we should go by. But it was established in 1887,’ she told us. She just knew,” Derby recalled.
That is an example of what the town is losing, Derby said.
“It’s not just about town operations but about who lived in this house and what business was there. All of that,” Derby said.
A native of Dallas, Barnett and her husband, Jim, moved to Carbondale in 1980. She came here to work for an Aspen-based real estate investment firm and live the mountain lifestyle, and Jim was in construction.
“We loved to ski,” she said of the decision to move to Colorado. “It just gave us the opportunity.”
When her job disappeared after two years, she was hired to work at Carbondale’s Town Hall, under then-Town Clerk and Finance Director Phyllis Needham.
Also on staff were then-Utility Clerk Suzanne Cerise and relatively new Town Manager Davis Farrar, who had just been hired to replace Skip Flewelling, Barnett recalled.
By January 1983, Needham had left Town Hall and Farrar split Needham’s old job, making Cerise town clerk and naming Barnett as finance director.
Together, the two were the most consistently recognizable faces on the town staff until Cerise retired in 2005.
“We spent 25 years together,” Barnett said. “We keep in touch. I miss her.”
“I guess it can’t have been too bad,” she joked during an interview on Friday. “Because if it had, I wouldn’t still be here.”
Barnett has worked for the town government since it was located at 76 S. Second St., where the KDNK radio station is now.
Back then, the town had fewer than 2,000 people in it, compared with around 5,600 now, and the municipal general-fund budget was about $700,000, compared with about $5 million now.
Barnett was there when the town resurfaced Main Street in cement, back around 1982, and installed super-bright street lights known as “highway lamps” at a cost of about $2 million.
In fact, she said, she had to come up with a little refinancing magic because “the town had issued some bonds based on unrealistic sales tax projections” to pay for the streets project.
She also was there in 1997, when the town spent $2.3 million to build the current Town Hall at 511 Colorado Ave., on what was formerly the site of the town’s public works garage.
Barnett has been acting town manager twice. Once was in 1995 between Farrar and his replacement, John Hier. She took the helm again in 2011, between the tenures of Tom Baker and current Town Manager Jay Harrington.
These days, aside from making plans to spend more time with her husband and their two sons and several grandchildren, she is feeling a mix of eager anticipation and mild anxiety.
On the eager side, Barnett said, she hopes that she can take up oil painting again, a hobby that kind of slipped away from her years ago as the job took up more and more of her time.
“The Finance Department generates a lot of work,” she said with a grin, noting that she was the sole member of her department when she started but that there are now four others in Finance.
Plus, she said, the town has no actual human resources department, so the Finance Department does that work, too.
But before she can go – and this is where the mild anxiety comes in – she has a few Finance Department projects she wants to wrap up, she said, and she has offered to help train her replacement.
Barnett said she and Jim have no big plans for retirement. She said they have plenty of projects to do around their house off Highway 82 to the east of Carbondale, along with plans to visit their sons, Craig and Kane, who both live out of state.
And, she said, “There are things on my list, places I’d like to see,” such as San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
In general, Barnett said, “I think this has been a pretty good job.”
And part of that is her appreciation of the town at large.
“I think it’s nice. I think we’ve made a lot of improvements. There’s some very energetic and creative groups in town that are sort of pushing us along, keeping it from being static,” she said.
The town currently is looking for Barnett’s replacement at an advertised annual salary of $75,000 to $105,000.