Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick resigns after 19 years at job
Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick is resigning from his post that he has held since 1999.
Mayor Steve Skadron said Monday that a majority of City Council asked for Barwick’s resignation, which he agreed to in an executive session.
Barwick, 63, has worked for 25 years with the city, first as the finance director and assistant city manager, and then as city manager for 19 years. His annual salary is $195,228.
When asked Monday night if he thought council’s move was political, he replied, “Everything is political.”
He said he’s already been contacted for other city management positions from headhunters outside of Aspen, and acknowledged that he will likely have to move out of the community.
When asked how he feels about his forced departure, Barwick answered in his usual calm way.
“I feel great,” he said. “It’s been a great 25-year run. I love this community.”
According to his employment agreement signed in 2010, Barwick is eligible for a severance package of a year’s salary and accrued vacation and sick time. The agreement stipulates that the severance has to be paid within 20 days of his departure.
He likely will have to sell the home on Cemetery Lane he bought from the city for $210,500 in 1995.
The terms of a separation agreement will be finalized at a later date, as will the details of when he will leave the position permanently.
Those details will be discussed in a future public hearing, Skadron said.
Barwick said he will likely be gone before the March 5 election when voters will elect a new mayor and two council members. He said he would give council a three-week notice.
In the coming weeks, council will meet to discuss the interim and long-term plan for handling the vacancy.
Council is expected to meet with Assistant City Manager Sara Ott on Jan. 14 in executive session to discuss her interest in becoming interim city manager.
After council’s executive session on Monday night, Barwick went to his office but returned about a half hour later to the regular council meeting.
Council asked for Barwick’s resignation in the wake of controversy and public criticism centered around a handful of initiatives that came out of City Hall in the past year.
One of them is a public-private partnership to build 45 affordable apartments, which led to the resignation of Assistant City Manager Barry Crook. His last day of employment is today.
Barwick, who was on vacation for two weeks over the holidays, said he didn’t know about his pending future until a few days ago.
He surmised that Crook’s outburst and name-calling of the all-citizen Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board on Dec. 11 was the trigger for council’s request for his resignation.
With Crook and Barwick out, that leaves Ott as the sole manager in the city manager’s office.
Barwick said even if council moves quickly in a search for a new city manager, finding one will be at least a four-month process.
“It’s going to be for the next council,” he said of a newly elected board this spring.
Just after Skadron’s announcement in Monday night’s regular meeting, Barwick submitted an opinion piece that appears in Tuesday’s Aspen Times.
He explains the pitfalls of the position in a unique community with plenty of controversy, as well as another challenge for elected officials.
He quoted a fellow colleague in city government who had written a piece in the Colorado Municipal League magazine this past fall explaining the personal cost of serving in an elected position.
That individual had referenced a council member “modeling the worst behaviors of divisiveness to try to get his or her way.”
Barwick clarified that he was not singling out any past or current Aspen council member but was just trying to reiterate how difficult it is to serve as an elected official.
In a news release issued Monday night, Skadron praised Barwick for his work as a public servant.
“I feel fortunate to have been a mayor during Steve Barwick’s tenure and his experience is something I’ve relied upon,” Skadron said in the release. “I’ve always respected his calm, thoughtful and insightful guidance, particularly in emotionally and politically charged times.
“Steve Barwick’s work in many areas including environmental stewardship, housing, transportation and creating financial stability have made Aspen a city that others turn to for exemplary leadership,” Skadron continued. “His commitment over 25 years and the people he’s hired, the services and values they embody are a large reason why so many people are drawn to this exceptional city as a community and a resort.”
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Alex Rager believes that the search for affordable housing in the Roaring Fork Valley can sometimes boil down to luck and timing. “When you least expect it and when you most need it is when things happen,” she said.