Aspen is losing a fine manager; she will be missed
Regardless of one’s opinion of Aspen’s outgoing city manager, Amy Margerum, there is no denying she has pulled off a remarkable feat – she has been the chief administrative official of one of the most combative, controversial communities in the state of Colorado, and she has done it for eight years.
For those who are not students of municipal government, that’s about four times as long as most city managers last, even in sleepy little burgs where the votes are cast in multiples of 10 and the highest campaign expenditure is the bar tab for the victor on election night.
Margerum has her detractors, to be sure. Some who have worked under her administration have not liked her management style, some who have served on the city councils during her tenure have butted heads with her on the issues. Some have criticized what was seen as her acquiescence to the sprawl of urban-style growth down the valley.
But such criticisms are not surprising, given the complexity of the job. She has successfully ridden herd on a vast (some would say too vast) and growing city bureaucracy, keeping tabs on a complex web of departments and services to constituents. She has been at the beck and call of four different city councils and two different mayors, trying to satisfy their need for information and schedule their myriad meetings. She has had to attend many of those late-night meetings, and others not directly associated with city government but important to the city’s functioning on some other level.
Margerum has served through times of monumental changes for Aspen and its surrounding areas, working in what is known as the “strong manager” style of government. That means she has taken a lead role in getting things done, while serving entirely at the good will of the mayor and council, which in Aspen’s volatile political atmosphere is not exactly great job security.
Throughout her tenure, though, she has efficiently and steadfastly done the council’s bidding on policy matters, objecting only occasionally when she felt the council members needed to hear a dissenting voice or a divergent viewpoint. The length of her time on the job is a testimony to how well she did it.
As mentioned earlier, Margerum was not liked by everybody in town, and was actively disliked by some who identified her with whatever the city did. And whatever these citizens did not like about the city, they did not like about her.
But the truth is that anybody in that job is going to raise the hackles of someone, some time, at the very least. And it should be noted that, all too often, the enmity that should be directed at the elected and appointed officials who make city policy is too often directed at the staffers and administrators who carry out that policy.
Margerum, who announced her resignation this week, won’t be leaving for a while yet. Her new job at The Aspen Institute doesn’t start until Jan. 1, and the council will undoubtedly take some time to find a replacement for her. In the meantime, there will be more than enough tempests and controversies to validate her decision to leave the public sector and retreat into the relative peace and serenity of life in the nonprofit world.
Although she probably would not admit it publicly, it is almost a certainty that Margerum is burned out. Aspen’s political skirmishes, like actual combat in some far off war zone, leave marks on everyone involved, from the citizens who vent their spleens in letters to the editors and in tirades at meetings, to the government officials at whom those letters and tirades are aimed. And as one who has been in the thick of it all, Margerum has taken her share of the slings and arrows, and is to be congratulated for her longevity, her efficiency and her dedication to the city and its citizens.
Whoever comes after her will have some big shoes to fill.
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