Suiter talks past, plans for new term
Ryan Summerlin February 12, 2014
Much has changed over the past 13 years in Snowmass Village.
Parts of Base Village and the entryway have been constructed, condo buildings have been renovated, the Snowmass Ski Area has expanded, and the town has created government tourism and recreation departments since the last time Gary Suiter was its town manager.
Although the lay of the land has changed, Suiter said much is the same.
“The community still looks and feels pretty much the same,” Suiter said. “I see a lot of the same faces, a lot of the same people — a strong sense of community.”
Suiter recently agreed to a contract continuing his consultant services as interim town manager, and he cautions residents not to consider him a permanent employee. Because the council members were divided, 3-2, on whether to hire him, he proposed a part-time consultant role that automatically renews every three months unless the council wants to vote on it.
“Any council member could call for a vote,” Suiter said. “I fully expect that to happen.”
Suiter said his approach to strategic and long-term planning will not be impacted by the uncertainty of his tenure. Since being fired by a council hungry to get Base Village approved in 2001, Suiter has worked as a consultant, mostly for municipal governments in Colorado.
“I think the value of setting goals … by the council on behalf of the community is extremely important,” Suiter said.
At the next council meeting on Feb. 18, Suiter said he hopes to get the council to agree to meet for a strategic planning session so that he knows what issues and projects are most important to them.
“There’s lots of different ways we could go, lots of different initiatives we could undertake, but it’s really important to have clear direction from the policymakers, and it’s important that they all attend these kinds of strategic planning retreats or sessions or advances or whatever they want to call it,” Suiter said. “Some people don’t like the word ‘retreat.’”
One of those initiatives to consider is the completion of the entryway. Suiter said he remembers going through a planning process for the town’s entryway, the area surrounding the Brush Creek and Highline road roundabout and including Town Park station and the rodeo grounds, about three times in the 1990s.
“When they finally adopted one, I could see that they kind of picked the most plausible and most doable elements of each of those and implemented them,” Suiter said.
To some members of the community, completing the entryway is high on the list of priorities. But the desires for what should be constructed there have changed since the ’90s, and it would take public forums and other steps to create a new plan, Suiter said.
“It will require significant staff resources,” Suiter said. “Is this where the council wants us to allocate their staff resources? I’m not so sure of that. … So what I really need to do is have the strategic planning session with council and say, ‘What are your priorities?’”
Suiter, born in California and raised in Nevada, got married and moved to Colorado in 1973. He studied at the University of Colorado at Denver, earning an undergraduate degree in urban geography and a master’s in public administration.
Suiter has managed airports, public-safety agencies and housing programs, among other jobs, and started as the Snowmass Village town manager in 1990. Dealing with large developers, resort-town issues and hours of hearings gave him experience that helped him launch a successful consulting career, he said.
“I really got to define myself and refine my skill sets in terms of what I was good at and what I could sell,” Suiter said. “And that was basically strategic planning, council dynamics, dealing with the council dynamics — I’ll obviously be utilizing my skill set here to the best of my ability — and I still get hired a lot for that.”
Suiter’s part-time status as town manager means that he can continue operating his consulting business.
“I’ve done three retreats so far this year,” Suiter said. “They’re typically on a Saturday.”
Suiter also has recruited professionals for governments before. Since his interim role began in Snowmass Village in August, he has hired a public works director and started the search for a community development director. In the past, he has recruited for a position while he was in the interim role but never before applied for a role he was interim in.
“(It) is not unusual,” Suiter said. “That happens all the time. … The majority of recruitments, I do have an interim candidate that’s performing who applies. Just got to be fair, and thorough and honest in the process.”
Suiter has noticed a shift since the recession where the polarization that exists in national politics has manifested itself in local government, he said.
“I’ve done interim management in all kinds of situations,” he said. “When you’re in that environment (a split board), … it makes everything more difficult. It would definitely be better here if there were a permanent manager here. It would definitely be better here if the council were unified. And I’m going to work to find issues to where we can see if we can find some common ground.”