City Council OKs contract with Aspen city manager |

City Council OKs contract with Aspen city manager

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/Aspen Times Weekly

ASPEN – A first-ever contract for Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick won City Council approval Monday, but not before City Hall critic Elizabeth Milias attacked Barwick’s job performance and suggested the city was “endorsing and rewarding mediocrity” with the action.

Milias’ remarks came during public comment, at the start of the council session. The contract actually won approval on a 4-0 vote a couple of hours later, but council members jumped to Barwick’s defense immediately after Milias was finished.

“You have some nerve asking for a contract with the city of Aspen tonight,” Milias said. “The truth is, you’re lucky to have a job.”

She blamed Barwick for an unwise land purchase, wasteful spending on projects that did not come to fruition and publishing an inaccurate projection of the taxpayer subsidy needed to construct the city’s Burlingame Ranch housing project, among other transgressions.

“That was a grenade that was just lobbed in here,” said Councilman Dwayne Romero. The blame for any perceived mistakes belongs with the council, not the city manager, he clarified.

“All [of] those decisions actually rest here at the City Council, at this table,” he said. “We bear the brunt of the success or failure of those decisions.”

Councilman Torre decried Milias’ remarks as a “hit-and-run style of politics” – she left the council chambers right after she left the podium.

“To me that was cowardly at the least,” said Torre, just as Milias reappeared from across the hall, remaining briefly.

Milias, Torre noted, has put City Hall on notice that she may sue over “defamatory attacks” she alleges former councilman Jack Johnson made about her at the council’s public podium. He accused Milias of doing much the same thing.

Mayor Mick Ireland said Milias had the right to speak her piece, much as Johnson did.

“People have a right to be wrong,” he said, after correcting one of Milias’ statements.

Councilman Derek Johnson also praised Barwick’s performance, as did local resident Phyllis Bronson, who took the podium after Milias.

“I just want to say, I just found that appalling,” Bronson said. “I think Steve does a great job, as do all of you. Nobody’s perfect.”

Later in the evening, the council approved the contract, which spells out the expectations the city has for the city manager, and defines the circumstances under which Barwick may be dismissed without receiving severance pay.

The severance package equals six months of his $170,352 salary to start. The amount increases to nine months of his salary a year from now, and to 12 months in April 2012.

Such employment contracts are standard in the industry for city managers, Ireland noted, and the terms under which the contract can be terminated by the city without triggering severance pay are broad, he said.

Barwick’s duties are also broad, both in terms of city operations and the number of employees he oversees, Ireland noted.

“It’s a difficult job,” the mayor said. “It’s a broader scope of duties than a city manager in a typical town of this size would face.”

The absence of a contract, Romero added, could inhibit the candid feedback from the city manager that the council and public should expect.

Barwick has held the city manager’s post since November 1999, but has never had a employment contract until now.

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