New Carbondale town manager settling in to job
August 29, 2011
CARBONDALE – Carbondale’s new town manager, Jay Harrington, has completed his first full week on the job. He was selected earlier this summer following an extensive search by the town board for a new chief administrator.
“I’m still learning the lay of the land, but everyone has been really friendly,” said Harrington, who has served as city manager in Cortez for the past four years.
Prior to that, he was the town manager in Telluride for three years, and held the same post in Pagosa Springs for 10 years before that.
“This is my first jump outside of southwest Colorado, and I think I can bring a lot from my experience there to Carbondale,” he said.
Harrington, 45, has been busy this summer wrapping up his duties in Cortez and finding a place for himself and his family to live in Carbondale. He and his wife, Jennifer, have a 9-year-old son, Frankie.
He replaces former Town Manager Tom Baker, whose contract the Town Board decided not to renew after last year. Assistant town manager and finance director Nancy Barnett has been acting town manager in the interim.
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Harrington will be earning an annual salary of $114,000 to start.
While Carbondale is a bit smaller and has different demographics than Cortez, and is not as tourism-dependent as Telluride, there are comparisons from which Harrington said he can glean in heading up Carbondale’s town government affairs.
“A lot of the issues are the same ones Carbondale or any municipality in Colorado are facing,” he said. “As town manager, I wear many hats. But mainly my job is to work with town staff, elected officials and the community to address those issues.
“There’s already a strong organization here, and I hope to help bring the organization up to the next level and work to develop good customer service and provide new services to the community,” Harrington said.
One of the challenges facing Carbondale has been the downturn in budget revenues, including sales taxes, in recent years. That has resulted in a continued wage freeze and pay reductions for town employees, as well as handful of layoffs.
“Cortez hadn’t quite boomed at the same level as some of the towns up here, so it didn’t fall as quickly either,” Harrington said. “We were also able to avoid layoffs, though we did have some early retirements.”
On the growth and development front, his experience in Telluride might be more applicable to Carbondale.
Harrington was town manager there during the aftermath of a town election approving the purchase of the more than 400-acre Valley Floor area, done through condemnation from a private property owner for open space preservation.
“I was very involved in that, although I left before the final ruling,” he said of the eventual court ruling that the town pay $50 million for the purchase, rather than the town’s argued price of around $26 million.
“Development issues were a very common theme at city council meetings,” he said, comparing his experience in Telluride to the often contentious development debates in Carbondale.
“After the vote and the court action, I was involved quite a bit in the legal issues associated with it,” he said of the Valley Floor process.
“Open space has been a big issue in Telluride since the late 1980s,” he said. The town now dedicates 20 percent of its discretionary spending to open space.
During his more recent years in Cortez, Harrington has also been involved with the debate there about how to regulate medical marijuana businesses, another hot button issue in Carbondale these days.
“There was a pretty heated debate about whether to put it on ballot for prohibition, but the city council voted it down,” he said.
Some Carbondale town trustees have also pushed for a question to be put on the April 2012 municipal ballot related to medical marijuana.
Harrington earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Saint Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Colorado at Denver.
He was chosen to be Carbondale’s town manager from among six finalists who were selected earlier this year. Initially, there were 62 applicants for the job.