Pitkin County manager accepts position with Denver firm

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Hilary Fletcher

ASPEN – Pitkin County Manager Hilary Fletcher formally announced Thursday she is leaving her post to work with a Denver firm that specializes in planning and engineering airport-construction projects.Fletcher will join Jviation Inc. to work with communities and governments during planning processes, said Jim Trott, a principal in the firm. She will also be involved in business recruitment.Fletcher, 50, said leaving Pitkin County government is “probably one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made.” She started working for the county’s legal office in 1988 and earned a series of promotions. She was appointed assistant county manager in 1998 and county manager in 2001.”I’m passionate about Pitkin County,” Fletcher said. “I’ve been with them a long time. They’ve raised me.”Fletcher announced her decision to the county commissioners in a closed session Wednesday afternoon. Her resignation is effective Sept. 24. She will keep her midvalley residence and plans to return often on weekends to continue to serve as a volunteer with the Carbondale Fire Department. She drives an ambulance.Fletcher said it is important to her to keep ties with the Roaring Fork Valley. Her sons, Cody Smith, 24, and Dillon Smith, 19, were raised in the valley.Pitkin County Commissioner Michael Owsley, who has worked with Fletcher for six years, said she brings tremendous skills to the position.”She’s a community builder. That’s what I like about working with her,” he said.County government is very service-oriented and Fletcher helped the county hone those services, he said. “Nobody wants to see somebody like Hilary leave, but she has plans, and she leaves the county in good shape,” Owsley said.The county will hire a professional recruiter to assist finding a replacement, according to Owsley. Phylis Mattice, internal services director, will likely be asked to serve as an interim manager until a permanent replacement is found.Owsley noted that Fletcher served nine years in a profession that typically turns over quite frequently. Fletcher said one county old-timer guessed that no county manager had stayed in the position as long as her since the 1960s.She oversees an organization with 240 employees and a total annual budget of $78 million. She is proud of helping stabilize the county government’s financial situation over the last decade but fears the potential effects of three state ballot questions this November that could slice government revenues.She described her management style as collaborative and participatory. She said she is detail-oriented, but didn’t watch too closely over the shoulder of employees unless she was asked for assistance. And she enjoyed what she did.”You can’t do this job if you don’t have a passion for it,” she said.But the time came to pursue a new challenge. She said she learned about Jviation while it performed work over the last three years on the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. She said she was impressed by the firm’s integrity and the thoughtful and strategic approach its employees brought to the job.Jviation, formerly known as J3 Aviation Consultants Inc., was part of the team that studied and planned the extension of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport runway. The county commissioners approved the 1,000-foot extension in July, and the county is pursuing funding from the Federal Aviation Administration for the $17.5 million project. The firm has also been involved in planning airport terminal improvements.Fletcher said she was never involved in hiring or retaining J3 or Jviation for the local projects. In the case of the planning for the runway extension, the firm was brought onto the team by Barnard Dunkelberg & Co., the lead company in the effort.Fletcher said that nothing in Pitkin County’s conflict code would preclude her from working for Jviation on Aspen airport projects. She would be working for a firm that serves at the pleasure of the county commissioners or signs onto a team selected by a firm hired by the commissioners. She wouldn’t be representing a third party before the county board, she said.Jviation hired Fletcher because of her communication skills and her extensive managerial experience, Trott said. Officials with the firm, which is growing and looking for ways to diversify, said Fletcher will help in that mission.Fletcher announced her decision to senior staff members at the county Wednesday, and she planned to break the news personally to as many other employees as possible Thursday. She ended up having to send a county-wide e-mail Wednesday night because of an impending news story.But she still met with scores of employees Thursday.”Lots of tears today,” Fletcher