Aspen city manager candidates dwindle to three |

Aspen city manager candidates dwindle to three

The city of Aspen and its residents have three finalists to choose from for the city manager job now that one person has dropped out of the running.

Blair King, the city manager for Coronado, California, withdrew last week because he said he wasn’t expecting to be in the public realm without first getting to know the elected officials who are in charge of hiring.

“I would have preferred that I had a size up of the council and the council had a size up of me before the next piece,” he said Tuesday in a phone interview. “I wish I could put my finger on this but I can’t. … It just didn’t feel right.

“My expectations were to interview with the council privately.”

The remaining finalists will be in the hot seat Thursday when they will make a public presentation in front of council related to the Aspen Area Community Plan, which is a guiding principles document that elected officials use when making decisions.

Council will have 10 minutes to provide follow-up questions after each candidate’s presentations.

The remaining finalists are current Interim City Manager Sara Ott, along with outside applicants Robb Etnyre, the general manager and CEO of Tahoe Donner in Truckee, and Katherine Lewis, senior city attorney for Salt Lake City Corp.

The municipal government hired the headhunting firm Peckham & McKenney in April for $25,000 to find the right candidate to fill the city’s top administrative job after Steve Barwick was forced out at the beginning of the year.

Glenwood Springs-based Drew Gorgey has been leading the effort for the national search firm.

He said King informed him via email Friday that he was taking himself out of the running.

Alissa Farrell, the city’s human resources director and interim assistant city manager, said she met with Gorgey over the weekend to discuss if there were any candidates who should be reconsidered. There were none.

King notified Gorgey the day after he sent the four finalists an email detailing the presentation portion of the interview process.

Gorgey said when he invited the four finalists to be part of the next phase he made it known that their names and resumes would become public. He also said he generally went over what the interviewing process was going to be.

It’s not unusual to have candidates withdraw during the recruitment process, but it is less frequent in the finalist stage, Gorgey noted.

“The opportunity becomes more real as you get through the process,” he said. “Candidate behavior is difficult to predict.”

While 64 people applied for the job, a total of six dropped out for various reasons, whether it was personal, bad timing or counter offers from their current employers.

“I believe everybody acted in good faith,” Gorgey said.

Farrell said she feels confident that Peckham & McKenney has done its due diligence and has provided three solid finalists for the council to choose from.

Having finalists make presentations prior to meeting with city council is a hiring process modeled after several municipalities, including Flagstaff, Arizona.

That way, council can base their interviews off of community feedback and the candidates’ performances.

After the finalists conduct their presentations Thursday morning, a leadership panel made up of city staffers who report directly to the city manager, as well as a community panel comprised of four individuals, will interview them.

Then there will be a public meet-and-greet with community members from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Council will meet in executive session Friday to interview the applicants separately.

Another executive session is scheduled for Aug. 13 so council can discuss the merits of the candidates, weigh feedback from the community and determine the next steps in the hiring process.

Farrell and Gorgey noted that candidates could fall off all the way up to negotiations, but they hope it doesn’t get to that point.

“We are still looking for the best skills and best fit for the community,” Farrell said.

Gorgey said he’s confident that someone Peckham & McKenney brought to council will fit that bill.

“This process is working and I’m interested in seeing how it concludes,” he said. “I’m encouraged about the three candidates we have.”

The public is invited to attend Thursday’s presentations in council chambers, or watch it live streamed on Facebook or the city’s website, and then provide feedback via comment cards, or later via email at

The deadline for comments is 5 p.m. Sunday. The public can submit comments in person at a drop-off box that will be located in City Hall at the finance desk Thursday and Friday.