Basalt hires consultants to help search for interim town manager, improve communications

The Basalt town government has hired two consultants to help search for a town manager and “improve transparency.”

Tim Gagen, former town manager of Breckenridge, was hired for the remainder of September to help guide the search for an interim manager and offer support to the town staff on a daily basis. He is offering professional management expertise.

Gagen said Judi Tippetts remains Basalt’s acting manager.

Gagen has worked in municipal government for 40 years, he said, and retired in June after working as Breckenridge town manager for 16 years.

Basalt is looking for an interim manager to guide the town and potentially help the search for a permanent manager. The position is vacant after the resignation of Mike Scanlon on Aug. 19.

Scanlon left Basalt abruptly on a Friday afternoon and informed town officials the next day he had terminated his contract. He contends his employment contract was violated because some council members discussed his performance in public. He requested one year of severance pay. Scanlon was making $161,360 annually with a $2,000-per-month housing allowance.

Attorneys for Scanlon and the town are negotiating terms of a settlement. Neither side will discuss the talks.

Gagen said this is a tough time to seek an interim manager. Five mountain communities have lost managers in recent months, so several potential candidates to fill in on a temporary basis are already booked, he said. Nevertheless, his goal is to have an interim manager lined up by October.

Jeannette Darnauer and her Aspen communication firm were hired as a “temporary public information officer,” according to Mayor Jacque Whitsitt.

“Jeanette’s going to help us improve our transparency,” Whitsitt said at Tuesday’s council meeting. Some critics have questioned the level of transparency at Town Hall.

Darnauer founded a successful public relations firm in Aspen in 1991. One focus of her firm has been helping entities — be it developers, activist groups in elections or governments — open their minds and ears to community sentiments. One of her first jobs was working for Gerald Hines after he purchased Aspen Highlands and sought approvals for a base village. Highlands loyalists were wary of change, and Darnauer helped convey their concerns to Hines’ team and Hines’ intentions to the public.

Darnauer said her proposal to Basalt includes a first step to learn as much as she can as soon as possible from people with “perspectives on all sides of issues.” There are still wounds over Whitsitt’s defeat of former Mayor and Councilman Rick Stevens in the April election, and there is an ongoing battle over the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site.

Darnauer has proposed reaching out to a variety of community residents. She also plans to meet individually with council members and attend various community meetings. Once she collects community perspectives, she will share what she learned with the council and staff. The goal, she said, is “restoring trust” and rebuilding community in Basalt.

Darnauer’s other duties will include presenting factual information on ballot issues for the November election. Basalt is asking voters to approve funding for the purchase of land at the Pan and Fork site and for park improvements. Colorado law prohibits governments from lobbying or promoting an outcome on a ballot issue, but it can present neutral information.

A third duty of Darnauer’s firm will be using various forums to get information to people about town actions and accomplishments.

“We certainly want to tell a full story,” she said.

A final contract hadn’t been signed as of Friday, so the scope of Darnauer Group’s work hasn’t been defined. Darnauer will work for the town through 2016 with a review after to see if any further services are needed, she said.