Aspen mayoral candidates on what it takes for a new city manager
The Aspen Times has asked candidates for Aspen mayor to answer five questions about who they are and what their positions are on various issues facing the community.
We will publish one question and their answers from the candidates each day this week, Monday through Friday.
Today is the second question, which asks the candidates what they would like to see in a new city manager now that the current one has resigned after 19 years on the job.
Question 2: What attributes do we need in the new city manager and what kind of role should the city manager play in governance and community outreach?
If you look at an organizational chart for the city of Aspen, you will see the City Council at the top of the hierarchy, the city manager is directly below and assistant managers answer to the manager.
The fact that we have cleared out our top administrators is a direct reflection on the oversight and leadership of our council over the past six years. There has been a lack of communication, transparency and accountability at both the manager’s office and the City Council.
With these departures, Aspen has an opportunity to realign the working relationship between the citizenry, council, the manager’s office and city staff.
A new city manager must be presented with a clear manifest and expectations and outcome measures. A new manager will need the skills that are required of a position that is as broad as it is deep.
An intelligence and experience in economics, personnel, managing a staff of over 300, planning and process procedures, collaborative work ethic, customer service as a priority and an understanding of municipal operations are just some of the attributes we will be looking for in a new manager.
City Council is responsible for policy-setting and must have an honest relationship with the manager that can produce the best results through communication and openness. The city manager is an integral part of our city implementation of governance and this is achieved with the oversight and input of council.
The manager’s office should be part of outreach efforts but most importantly open for input, consult and communication with the public.
In this election, the term “outreach” is being overused and does not accurately identify what is a part of any good process: communication. An actual exchange of ideas and perspectives and incorporating community input is the next mantra for City Hall.
The city manager should be trustworthy, respectful, ethical, approachable and of the utmost integrity.
The city manager should be a good listener, open to different and new ideas and a good communicator. He or she should have a strong and consistent leadership style that is understood by the city staff. As defined in our city charter, “The council is the policy-determining body of the municipal government and … the executive power is vested in the city manager.”
This executive power consists of enforcement of laws and ordinances, hiring and removing city employees, budget preparation and supervision over departments, among other administrative tasks.
What we don’t see described in the city charter is the importance of relating to the public. While the city is a big business with a big budget and requires strong administration, our city manager also needs to be a link between the public and City Council.
The focus of public management and service should be the citizens and the community from the city manager to each staff member.
City managers function as the foundation of the city’s government, where efficient and well-planned operations touch the day-to-day lives of people in the community.
Our new city manager should be a professional in the field, well-experienced in managing our size and type of community.
But most important, our new city manager will be serving citizens, not customers or consumers. Citizens will have the opportunity to participate in the development and roll-out of services. The new city manager will be an advocate for citizens and at times a facilitator between the community and the council.
I met Steve Barwick in 2017 when I first announced my mayoral biddings. He was very receptive, open to my questions and with his communications.
I would argue that these are all attributes key for a city manager. However, the disputes that were present in communication among the City Council and the city manager should never have existed.
The attributes required for our next city manager are a strong professionalism, nonpartisan views, an expansive field of experience, personalism and a proven ability to be able to communicate through community outreach, as any politician should attain.
The governing abilities should be limited, but I would never want valuable opinions of our new city manager that, I would only hope, are conducive to the management of our city be ignored or not desired.
The foremost attribute I am seeking in a city manager is the ability to create and manage a cohesive culture within City Hall.
Trust in government is at historically low levels across our nation (see Pew Research Center data). The new manager must create a culture that focuses City Hall on representing our entire community and visitors. We must work to rebuild trust with the community. Being a public leader — elected or hired — is not easy in this national environment.
It is especially hard in Aspen given our long history of delivering goals and services at a very high level.
This is why outreach and communication are key. While empowering department heads with independence is important in any organization, it needs to be balanced to ensure internal coordination between employees is as good as the external communication with the community. There have been some great examples of outreach from City Hall; we need to instill that belief across the entire organization.
We need the new city manager to help steer the decision-making process back to the intent of the city charter; council sets community goals and empowers the staff to deliver using their professional recommendations.
This will include some needed push-back from staff to council on how the decision-making process has operated in the past, but it is needed to deliver community goals in a better and more effective manner.
In addition, we need a mayor and council members who understand the important balance of this process.
My management background in working in very large and diverse organizations before moving to Aspen, combined with my involvement in this community raising a family, interacting with a variety of organizations and people and my experience of delivering community goals at the council table, offers the leadership skill set City Hall needs.