Aspen’s next city manager to take reins after a 19-year reign by predecessor
When Aspen City Council approves an employment contract with Sara Ott to be the next city manager likely Tuesday afternoon, it will be a formality.
Albeit a big formality. It will secure Ott in a position that she has held in interim since February after Steve Barwick was asked to resign a month earlier for a series of communication missteps with the public.
Ott was one of two assistant city managers under Barwick; Barry Crook was the other and he was asked to leave in December after a blow up with the all-volunteer housing board and its executive director.
With Crook and Barwick gone, it left Ott as the only one in the City Manager’s Office to run the municipal government and its 320-plus employees.
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“I’ve been steering the ship for nine months,” she said last week, after the city announced tha Ott was picked over two other finalists for the permanent job.
Ott said it is too early to discuss what staffing hires and adjustments will be made in the City Manager’s Office, but listening to the community is priority No. 1.
“The organizational structure is not ideal,” she said of the department. “But I want to hear from the community and make sure the changes I am thinking about are in line with what they want.”
Currently serving in the assistant city manager roles are Scott Miller, public works director, and Alissa Farrell, director of human resources.
Ott’s contract to serve as interim city manager expired Sunday. She was being paid $195,255. Her new salary, $203,000, will be retroactive from that date if council approves the contract Tuesday.
There were a total of 64 applicants for the city’s top administrative job, which was advertised through the national search firm Peckham & McKenney.
The original pool of applicants was culled to four finalists, one of whom dropped out before the interview process.
Ott beat out Robb Etnyre, the general manager and CEO of Tahoe Donner in Truckee, California, and Katherine Lewis, senior city attorney for Salt Lake City Corp.
The finalists met with city staff and members of the public, who were then asked to fill out feedback cards for council to help weigh its decision.
Mayor Torre acknowledged that he’s heard concerns from some city employees about Ott, but the mayor said Ott’s qualifications, experience and dedication won out.
“There’s no decision that will make everyone happy,” he said. “I’m excited to work with her.”
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Aspen Skiing Co. and most of the Colorado ski industry were cruising along in a second strong season, until the coronavirus crisis forced their closure on March 14. Skier visits would typically be announced this week, but the ski industry is focused on forging ahead rather than looking back.