Recruiter gets an earful from citizens on Aspen’s next city manager |

Recruiter gets an earful from citizens on Aspen’s next city manager

Peckham & McKenney executive search western region vice president Drew Gorgey, right, listens intently to Phil Overeynder during an Aspen City Manager Recruitment community listening session on Tuesday in the Aspen Police Department community room.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Aspen’s new city manager should be big on public engagement and make between $180,000 and $214,000, based on a candidate profile that City Council agreed to on Tuesday.

Drew Gorgey, a recruiter for headhunting firm Peckham & McKenney, is creating the profile for the right candidate based on feedback he’s received in the past two days from residents, seated elected officials and council members-elect who will be sworn in June 10, as well as department heads.

A total of about 20 people showed up to three listening sessions with Gorgey held Monday and Tuesday. And between 15 and 20 individuals emailed him either directly or through a city email address.

He said during Tuesday’s session held in the community room of the Aspen Police Department that those who took the time were fully engaged and prepared to discuss issues in depth.

“The citizens stressed civility as a community value,” he said, adding that in his experience the local government is going above and beyond what’s customary in the world of recruiting a city manager. “Aspen is the first community that has invested in three listening sessions. It’s very atypical.”

Some in the room suggested that former City Manager Steve Barwick, who was asked to resign in January after 19 years on the job, “shut down” a few years ago and wasn’t as engaged with staff and the community as he once was.

Resident Phil Overeynder said he hopes there is good chemistry between the individual who fills the newly created director of communications position and the new city manager.

He explained that the first few years in the role, a city manager feels empowered enough to tell elected officials what the sentiment is among the staff or the community and will put his or her neck out on principles.

“Over time, they are less likely to put themselves out there,” Overeynder said. “The city manager can get isolated and doesn’t have that sense of community. It all goes back to what kind of communication they are getting internally.”

Tracy Trulove, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation, told Gorgey during Tuesday’s listening session that the next city manager should be innovative, particularly when it comes to solving Aspen’s traffic issues.

“The city manager will have to be the cog in the wheel to make it go,” she said.

After meeting with citizens and then a roomful of city department heads Tuesday afternoon, Gorgey met with council in a work session.

He told elected officials that it seems as though government is no longer in step with its citizens, and there needs to be a realignment.

Gorgey pointed to the process and lead-up to the city’s new government office building that’s being built, along with its botched mobility lab called SHIFT that could have cost upward of $3 million.

“I think the city building and the mobility SHIFT is where the city has fallen down on communications,” he said, adding that the municipal government has to establish what public engagement is. “You gotta define your terms before you know if you are failing at it.”

So, city manager candidates will need to have solid communication skills, be transparent and honest, empathetic, extroverted, brave, courageous and able to break down barriers within various departments, Gorgey said.

The ideal candidate must also understand the uniqueness of Aspen and know how important the environment and sustainability is, as well as have the ability to challenge the status quo.

“I could go on … you get the flavor of what your own citizens are looking for,” he told council. “Government works for them, not the other way around.”

Gorgey said he expects to develop a candidate profile by the end of the month, then create a recruitment brochure for a subcommittee and council to review.

That brochure and other advertisements will be distributed nationally to potential candidates through connections the recruiting firm has, as well as other municipal government circles via digital platforms and traditional methods.

The application deadline is July 8, with preliminary interviews in July and early August.

Interviews with finalists are expected Aug. 8 and 9, with a potential hire in the fall.

Housing within the city of Aspen’s inventory may be available to the preferred candidate, if there is a unit available.

The city is paying Peckham & McKenney $26,500 to assist in finding the next top administrator for the municipal government.

The recruitment subcommittee, which includes Mayor Steve Skadron; Councilman Ward Hauenstein; Courtney DeVito, the interim deputy director of human resources; and Alissa Farrell, the director of human resources and an interim assistant city manager, will finalize the candidate profile and hand it off to council for approval.

Hauenstein said he’s been impressed thus far with how the setup for the recruitment has gone.

“It’s been a good process because it causes us to look at ourselves closer,” Hauenstein said.