City of Aspen hires special project manager to look at child care, housing issues
A former city manager has been brought on to the city of Aspen’s payroll to specifically tackle a few of the municipal government’s key initiatives, including creating affordable child care and providing space for locally serving businesses.
Ron LeBlanc, who is retiring from his post as city manager of Durango early this year, has been hired as a “special projects manager” in a part-time capacity for up to a year.
City Manager Sara Ott said LeBlanc’s first priority will be to tackle how the city of Aspen can provide more child care at affordable rates.
The dearth of preschool options and the resulting waiting lists, coupled with how expensive early-childhood education programs are in Aspen and in the Roaring Fork Valley, are creating a crisis for families and, ultimately, the local workforce, because parents are moving away.
At the Yellow Brick School where the city of Aspen operates its voter-approved sales tax-funded Kids First program, the wait list is 50 deep, and most of them are infants.
Having LeBlanc dive into the issue and find potential solutions is less expensive and more efficient than hiring a consultant, Ott said.
“With child care there are so many moving parts with tax modeling and other complexities,” she said.
Finding ways to create affordable spaces so businesses can offer inexpensive food, drink, clothing and other basic necessities for locals will be equally a challenge for LeBlanc.
Yet, the current council has made it a goal for this year and believes it deserves further investigation.
Ott said after affordable housing, child care and locally serving businesses are the biggest issues facing the community, along with mental health.
“These are policy areas that need a devoted, coordinated effort,” Ott said.
LeBlanc will be paid $55 an hour, 30 hours a week and is eligible for health benefits.
Ott said she is using savings from an unfilled management analyst position to pay LeBlanc.
She also plans to post job openings early this year for two assistant city managers.
Before becoming city manager, Ott was an assistant city manager, along with her colleague Barry Crook.
He was forced to resign in December of 2018 after he made derogatory comments about the all-volunteer citizen housing board.
In early January of 2019, Barwick was asked to resign, leaving Ott the interim city manager and no assistant city managers.
Ott named human resources director Alissa Farrell and public works director Scott Miller as interim city managers.
But now it’s time to staff up and bring those positions back to full time.
Ott recently filled a key position in the community development department by naming Phillip Supino as the director of the department.
Another key position that needs to be filled is the city clerk. Linda Manning resigned in November, and another position in the Clerk’s Office also became empty when records manager Jeannine Stickle resigned.
Longtime city employee Reed Patterson, who works in the Clerk’s Office and handles municipal court, is retiring this month, leaving a third position open in the department.
City Attorney Jim True, who oversees the Clerk’s Office, said a dozen people have applied for the city clerk job.
Ott said she’s looking forward to 2020 and plans to expand her listening tour into the public realm. She spent most of 2019 listening to city staff and government partners. Now she wants to hear the concerns of citizens.
“I’ve been enjoying my listening tour and appreciative of the different perspectives,” she said.
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International visitors have traditionally accounted for 10 to 20 percent of Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits in recent past seasons. Travel fears and restrictions tied to the coronavirus are expected to wipe out most of that market for 2020-21.