City manager recruiter says Aspen is in ‘good hands’ |

City manager recruiter says Aspen is in ‘good hands’

Aspen City Hall.

Aspen’s elected officials on Tuesday took the next step in hiring a new city manager, an effort that began in January when longtime top administrator Steve Barwick was asked to resign.

Soon after, Assistant City Manager Sara Ott became interim city manager and has a contract with the city until Sept. 1 to be in that role.

She is expected to throw her hat into the ring for the permanent position and has recused herself from the recruitment process.

Drew Gorgey, who is based out of Glenwood Springs and is the primary recruiter for the city, addressed Aspen City Council during its Tuesday work session.

He said it is an exciting time for the city and the community to hire a new manager, but it’s also challenging to find the right one considering the cost of living and other factors facing a mountain resort town with international allure and a world-class reputation.

“This position will be very popular and attractive but this is a hard position to fill,” Gorgey said, adding he expects between 30 and 80 applicants. “I hold no illusions on how hard it will be.”

He emphasized this will be one of the biggest decisions City Council members will make during their political life.

Gorgey is vice president of the western region of the national recruitment firm Peckham & McKenney, which was selected by a subcommittee comprised of City Council members and city staff.

Headquartered in California, Peckham & McKenney was chosen from seven firms that submitted bids in response to the municipal government’s request for proposals.

The firm has recruited town managers for Basalt, Snowmass Village, Telluride, Winter Park and Windsor, and has placed almost 200 city managers and similar positions nationally.

Gorgey has served in government positions in Colorado for nearly 20 years, including as county manager and attorney for Garfield County and interim city manager of Glenwood Springs before working for Peckham & McKenney.

Prior to the start of the recruiting process for the city of Aspen, an organizational meeting will be held to formalize the schedule and a detailed outline of the recruitment process, according to Alissa Farrell, the city’s human resources director and assistant city manager.

Kick-off meetings with current council members and those who were elected this spring and take office in June, along with city staff, key stakeholder groups and the community at large, will be held May 14, and possibly the evening before.

“I’m here to primarily listen and immerse myself with the culture of the city and the community,” Gorgey said, noting that he understands that considerable public outreach will be necessary.

Ten days after that initial meeting, Gorgey and his firm will develop a candidate profile based on what they learned from feedback and then advertise the position with key qualities in mind.

The position will be marketed in a four-page brochure through direct mail and digitally that describes the community, the ideal candidate, compensation and the search schedule.

Gorgey said he expects six weeks to recruit, with a July 8 filing deadline for candidates.

The number of candidates will be whittled down to perhaps 16 or 18 individuals who will be interviewed via video conferencing.

They’ll also be asked to answer a questionnaire that is a deeper dive on how they communicate and what they communicate, Gorgey said.

That pool of candidates will be winnowed down to a handful of finalists, and City Council could extend an offer to the preferred candidate by Aug. 8 or Aug. 9, Gorgey estimated.

But he said by the time all the details are worked out, it could be September or October before someone is sitting in the chair.

The contract with Peckham & McKenney is for $25,000 with the option for more expansive community engagement beyond the initial agreement.

Council members said they want as much public outreach and community engagement as possible.

“I think the community is in very good hands,” said Councilman Adam Frisch, who is term-limited and will leave his seat in June after eight years on council.

Frisch joked that because Aspenites are so vocal, it could easily become a 6,000-person search committee.

Gorgey stressed that while the public’s input is extremely important, it’s ultimately up to elected officials to make the choice.

“It’s a representative democracy, not a direct democracy,” he said. “The only people with the authority and responsibility to choose the city manager is the council.”

A new city manager will be hired by a new City Council, with three newly electeds to be sworn in June 10. Council members-elect Rachel Richards and Skippy Mesirow and Mayor-elect Torre will join incumbents Ann Mullins and Ward Hauenstein.

“The decision to include council members-elect and mayor-elect is a very positive sign of organizational health,” Gorgey said. “I say trust, participate and be excited and know you are in good hands.”