Aspen officials busy filling voids in organization’s top positions
Six department heads are currently being sought within the city of Aspen
City of Aspen administrators are in the process of recruiting six department heads, which is proving challenging amid a housing and labor shortage.
The exodus of that many directors leaving their helms is a result of retirements and resignations in the past few months.
Leadership is needed in IT, golf and the building, recreation, child care and police departments.
Assistant City Manager Diane Foster said the municipal government is close in hiring a manager for the golf and IT departments, with interviews for finalists scheduled this week.
Like most local employers, the city is having difficulty finding candidates who are willing to relocate and pay exorbitant housing costs in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Foster said of the eight people who interviewed for the golf manager position, two dropped out because of housing.
The issue is one of the first topics of discussion in the interview process.
“Just as a matter of course, we now talk to every candidate about housing,” Foster said. “We have to have those conversations.”
The city has close to 60 housing units for municipal workers, and most of them are occupied with current employees.
“There are times where we have interim housing available,” Foster said, noting that a recently hired housing policy analyst for the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority will live in a Marolt Ranch apartment but only until January, because it’s seasonal and is set aside for Aspen Skiing Co. employees.
The city is holding a housing unit open for the future IT director, Foster said.
“We decide (through policy) on who gets temporary or permanent housing opportunities based on position,” she said. “Cops are super-high priority.”
There is no available housing for the future golf manager or director of Kids First, the latter of which is a department that manages the city’s taxpayer-funded child care program.
That may change depending on timing of the hires, and there could be temporary housing available, which is typically six months.
“If you can give people a head start, it is really helpful,” Foster said.
City administrators are not only interviewing finalists for the IT and golf positions this week but also conducting screening interviews for candidates for a recreation manager, who oversees the Aspen Recreation Center and rec programs.
Two of the bigger shoes to fill are that of Kids First Director Shirley Ritter and Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor, both of whom recently announced their retirements after decades on the job.
The city plans to hire a recruiter to find the next police chief and will look at proposals from firms this week, according to Alissa Farrell, the city’s administrative services director.
The city has not finalized its recruitment plan for the Kids First director but hopes to do so in the coming weeks.
City officials hope to have someone hired for Kids First by this fall and Pryor’s replacement in place by the time he steps down in December.
Screening interviews have been completed for the chief building official position, which has been held for decades by Stephen Kanipe. Finalists will be determined shortly, according to Courtney DeVito, the city’s director of human resources.
There have been other movements within departments in the past couple of years with some longtime employees retiring, and the city has had to pivot to fill those voids.
“It’s all about workforce planning,” Farrell said. “It doesn’t even have to be in the same department, you are looking at citywide skills and bringing staff over to other departments. …
“We are continuing to look at the legacy of these long-term directors and their accomplishments and then where do we move forward and how do we make enhancements and improvements for the community and for the betterment of the organization?”
The city recently restructured the parking and transportation departments as both of its directors left last year, promoting from within and changing job responsibilities.
“There was an opportunity to reassess and look at some synergies between the departments,” Farrell said.
Foster said it makes sense for the parking and transportation departments to be combined.
“It was really intentional that those are areas that should be aligned or coordinated,” she said.
Foster, who came into the organization in 2020, has had her fill of filling vacancies with the abrupt resignations of the directors of the Wheeler Opera House and APCHA just months before and after she took the job.
It took a year to fill those vacancies with the help of recruiting firms, and current staff and Foster had to step in to do the work and continue the programs in those departments during the void.
Foster also had to, within months of her hiring, address the retirement of Jeff Woods, the longtime manager of parks and recreation, which was filled by Austin Weiss, the city’s former parks and open space director.
Foster said looking for talent within the organization is key.
“People development is a big thing for me,” she said. “Private sector companies that make stuff spend about 30% of their operating budget on people, and organizations like local government, 80% of our operating costs are people.”
This week’s $69-million purchase of the Silver Lining Ranch next to the Aspen Club included a 10-bedroom mansion, more than 6 acres and something else of value to the new ownership — a short-term rental license.
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