Basaltines sad, angry over Town Manager Scanlon’s departure
Numerous Basalt residents expressed sadness Saturday when they learned that Town Manager Mike Scanlon is departing, and many expressed anger at the council for the situation.
Scanlon notified the town Friday he terminated his employment contract and that he wanted the full 12 months of severance spelled out. The move came after ongoing sparring with the council.
“I’m hugely disappointed. I think he was an excellent manager,” said Gino Rossetti, a member of the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission. “I’m surprised but not totally surprised.”
Rossetti said Scanlon was an effective leader who could explain complex issues in a way that would win over skeptics. People “really believe in him,” he said.
The mood was somber at a town government hosted meeting in Town Hall on Saturday morning to discuss a possible November ballot issue. The council hasn’t formally voted yet, but it is leaning toward asking voters to approve bonding authority to buy the remainder of the Pan and Fork property and fund improvements for a riverside park.
Ironically, Scanlon gave a presentation on the ballot issue Thursday evening, and by several accounts he did an effective job. He was scheduled to help with Saturday’s presentation but he wasn’t present, and town Planning Director Susan Philp led the discussion. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and Councilmen Auden Schendler and Bernie Grauer also spoke at the meeting. It was attended by 11 residents, including Rossetti.
No acting manager named yet
Margot Pendleton, another attendee, expressed shock that Scanlon and the town had parted ways. She said she felt he had done a good job. A difficult relationship between the manager and the council can make it difficult to get things done, she noted.
“If you don’t have faith in your city manager, you’re kind of screwed,” Pendleton said.
She was elected to the Aspen City Council during a tumultuous political time in the 1990s and helped establish stability. She said Basalt could face a tough time during this campaign on the bond issue without Scanlon in office.
Scanlon’s termination notice left the town government with a lot of unanswered questions. The notice was essentially a resignation with conditions, but is was unclear if it was immediate. The council members at Saturday’s meeting didn’t discuss the situation. Scanlon also has declined comment.
Judi Tippetts is the assistant town manager as well as finance director. Philp is often the face of the town government at meetings. No acting manager has been named. Whitsitt declined to discuss any topic related to Scanlon’s departure.
Notice served Friday
Scanlon and his attorney, Kendra Carberry, informed the town that Scanlon terminated his contract because three members of the council reviewed his performance in public during a Finance Committee meeting Aug. 2. He is asking for 12 months of severance pay, according to sources who are familiar with the request but sought anonymity because the matter is potentially headed to litigation.
However, Scanlon also reserved the right to cancel the termination notice if the council doesn’t award the full severance package being sought. That leaves open a window, however small, that the differences can be overcome and he remains in the post he’s held since November 2012.
The latest tensions between Scanlon and the council came over his taking out of a $35,000 loan through the town’s down payment-assistance program. It wasn’t secured by a promissory note. There was a difference of opinion on whether a note was required and whether there needed to be direct council authorization.
Basalt resident and Scanlon supporter Kathy Hegberg summed up the sentiments of many Basaltines when she said the hardest part of the situation is people don’t know the full story. It’s hard to sort out fact from fiction because of lack of information available and the rumors flying around.
“It’s like Trumpology found Basalt,” Hegberg said.
She said she felt Scanlon was “one of the best managers in the country” and that he was “a voice of reason.” She is among people who feel he didn’t have the support of the council.
“I just felt like he was being fought every step of the way,” Hegberg said.
Anger on social media
Outright anger was expressed on comments posted to the Basalt Community Page on Facebook.
“I’m going to start breathing fire,” wrote former Councilwoman Tracey Bennett. “This is absolutely hands down the most dysfunctional Town Council this town has ever elected.”
Basalt resident John Black suggested the town ask the mayor and council to resign and Mike to come back.
Mark Kwiecienski, a frequent critic of Scanlon, said it was easy to like Scanlon on a personal level, but he noted Scanlon benefited from decisions made prior to his tenure.
“Basalt found all this new wealth due to the sales tax coming from Willits during Mikes tenure that he had nothing to do with and it allowed many good things to happened that people attribute just to Mike being around and his immensely popularity among many is due to that,” Kwiecienski said in an email.
He questioned Scanlon’s judgment on some issues, including taking the $35,000 loan in questionable circumstances.
“On the bright side, this is an opportunity for Basalt to right itself and establish a government that operates on the feel-good results that come from governing based 100 percent on fiduciary duty to the public,” Kwiecienski wrote.
The sentiment online and in personal interviews was overwhelmingly in support of Scanlon. Former Councilman and Mayor Rick Stevens and longtime resident Ted Guy vented frustration and also suggested there be a community event to thank Scanlon for all of his accomplishments.
Meanwhile, there is a settlement to reach. The council’s agenda for Tuesday’s regular meeting includes an executive session. Schendler said the council will meet with an outside attorney it hired for the matter, Steve Dawes of Denver, as well as town attorney Tom Smith. Dawes is a partner in the law firm of Light, Kelly & Dawes PC with a specialty in “public entity defense,” according to his profile on his firm’s website.
Editor’s note: This story was edited to correct a quote by Mark Kwiecienski.
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