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Aspen city manager seeks job security

ASPEN ” Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick is participating in closed-door negotiations with elected officials to secure an employment contract.

Barwick hasn’t had an employment contract throughout his nearly 10-year tenure. Employment contracts for governmental managers are standard in the industry.

But as Aspen’s economy declines and the public’s criticisms of local governance intensify, Barwick confirmed Monday that he is trying to secure his employment. He said drafts of the contract are being circulated but nothing is set in stone.

Mayor Mick Ireland said the Aspen City Council and Barwick have met in executive session to negotiate a contract but it’s unlikely an agreement will reached in the near future.

“This council probably won’t approve it,” he said of the upcoming election and a new council being sworn in June. “It would be more appropriate for a new council to determine whether they retain him and under what conditions.”

He added that if and when a contract is agreed upon, it will be voted on by the council in a public meeting.

“If there is a contract with the city manager, the public will see it,” Ireland said.

Barwick said he has attempted to solidify a contract with previous councils but it never came to fruition either because not all elected officials agreed or he didn’t make it a priority.

“I’ve negotiated with councils in the past but it’s never been fulfilled,” he said. “One of my personality traits is that I take care of others first and I take care of myself last.”

Former Mayor Helen Klanderud, who served for six years from 2001 to 2007, said she doesn’t recall contract negotiations with Barwick but noted that he should have job security.

“He’s really getting beat up,” she said. “I think he is a very fine manager.

“He’s quite smart, especially when it comes to finances.”

Negotiations with the current City Council have been ongoing for the past couple of months, and were first brought up at the end of last year during Barwick’s performance evaluation, officials said.

Ireland said Barwick should have a contract so that he, the public and the council are clear on what is expected from him, especially given how political and volatile the position can be. The city manager and the city attorney are the only positions in Aspen government that the council has the ability to hire and fire.

“It was a surprise to me that someone in this position didn’t have a contract,” Ireland said. “It’s to protect both sides, define his responsibilities and it’s fair that the council and the public be clear on the conditions and terms of his employment.”

Likely included in the contract will be what the terms are in the event that Barwick is terminated or leaves his position of his own volition.

“Anything we do will retain the ability to fire at will,” Ireland said. “But things will stay as they are and he will continue work with no raise like everyone else.”

Barwick earns $170,352 annually, which doesn’t include benefits or housing. He became city manager in October 1999. Prior to that, he was assistant city manager since 1993.

When Pitkin County Manager Hilary Fletcher was given an employment contract in July 2008, it was negotiated in executive session and ratified by the board of county commissioners in a public meeting.

One of the terms in Fletcher’s contract is that she receive six-month severance pay at her current pay rate whether she is terminated or quits. She currently makes $168,816 a year, which doesn’t include benefits.

csack@aspentimes.com


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