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Aspen hires new communications director to help officials ‘engage’ with community

The city of Aspen has hired its second director of communications since the position was created in spring 2019.

Denise White, who most recently was the communications specialist for the city of Boulder, will begin her work in Aspen on Oct. 26. Her salary is $110,000, plus benefits.

She had applied for the Aspen position the first time in early 2019 and was a finalist among three candidates but a local person, Tracy Trulove, then spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation, got the job.

But not a year on the job, Trulove left the city in June to work as public information officer for Pitkin County. She said at the time she didn’t realize how political the city position was going to be.

White applied again this go-around, beating out the roughly 200 people who applied for the position.

She said Friday that she is excited to be part of the Aspen community and looks forward to collaborating with residents, visitors, businesses and her colleagues.

“This is a job that I was disappointed I didn’t get but very happy to get it this time,” White said. “It’s very rare that you get a second shot at something you want.”

She will be charged with developing a communications strategy for the city, something that has been lacking for decades.

The city will be sending out a survey to the community in the upcoming weeks, which will be instrumental as the city moves toward the strategic communications plan, one of the major goals for White’s position, according to Alissa Farrell, the city’s administrative services director.

“As the city continues to create an environment that is reflective of the Aspen residents, it is essential that we engage with the community through targeted, comprehensive engagement, responsiveness and transparency,” she said.

White has more than 20 years of communications and strategy experience, most recently in Boulder. In that role, she directed and executed communications for the parks and recreation departments and several citywide initiatives, such as the implementation of a sugar-sweetened beverage tax.

White will oversee Mitzi Rapkin, the city’s longtime communications manager, who makes over $94,000 a year plus benefits.

The position of communications director position was created in 2018 after a series of missteps by the city in its communication with the public.

But also, top city administrators recognized that one person in the communications department was not enough for an organization with a $120 million budget, over 300 employees and two dozen departments.

Farrell said White will work collaboratively to set the communications strategy for the city by partnering with other departments, staff and the community at large.

That effort is what excites White the most, she said, adding that her observation of Aspen is that it’s a city first, and a resort second as opposed to other places in Colorado.

“I like that it has that sense of community,” White said, noting that she applied for a city job about eight years ago and didn’t get it, and she has friends here.

White said she has been part of teams who have developed communications strategies, which provide a framework for the government and its various departments to communicate with the public, as well as how the community engages with the city.

She also has worked with the city of Fort Collins, driving public relations and community outreach with the planning, development and transportation department.

She holds a master of arts in communication management from the University of Denver and a bachelor of arts in English literature from Montana State University.

It was in Bozeman, Montana, where White fell in love with mountain town living.

She said having worked in Boulder, which is a progressive city that is not shy of getting involved in heated political issues, has prepped her well, as did a mentor who taught her that communication roles aren’t about themselves but for the community as a whole.

“You have to listen and be open to the process,” White said. “I need to hear what the community’s desires are.”

When White visited Aspen in May 2019 during a meet-and-greet with city officials and staffers, her takeaway was that it was a special group of people both in City Hall and in town.

“I thought, what an amazing group of people and how dedicated they are,” she said. “And then talking to residents, it excites me how engaged the community is because you want to have that partnership.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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