Snowmass council goes public with internal feud over Gary Suiter contract
The Aspen Times
A bitter feud between two factions of the Snowmass Village Town Council spilled into the public arena Monday when they traded accusations and blame over the handling of the town manager search.
The majority faction of Mayor Bill Boineau and council members Markey Butler and Fred Kucker accused the minority faction of Jason Haber and Chris Jacobson of sabotaging the democratic process.
Haber and Jacobsen disagreed with the majority’s decision to hire Gary Suiter as town manager, so they have made motions to fire Suiter and restart the search even though they knew the motions were doomed, the majority claimed in a statement read by Boineau.
“We assert that the only rational for making those motions was to humiliate, harass and antagonize Gary because the minority well knew that the motions had to chance of passing,” the majority statement said.
Haber and Jacobson fired several volleys of their own. They claimed that the majority are stubbornly trying to make an impossible situation work with Suiter — to the detriment of making progress on community issues. Jacobson claimed the hiring process was flawed because Suiter was asked to participate in selection of the manager even though he was serving as interim manager. He also claimed that the council majority wasn’t patient and accommodating enough to find the time to interview one of the three finalists for the job.
Some of the council members have provided a glimpse of their beefs previously but most discussions have been in sessions closed to the public and press. The board decided last month to air their concerns about the manager situation in public at Monday’s meeting.
It was a no-holds barred tussle. All five council members were in direct verbal altercations with at least one other member at times during the meeting, and some of them during multiple parts of the discussion.
Suiter stuck in middle
Suiter has said, and he repeated Monday, that he won’t take the full-time manager position with the council divided, 3-2, on hiring him. So he is working as interim manager under three-month contracts that automatically renew unless terminated by one of the parties 15 days before the end of each three-month period. He is receiving $17,250 per month for his services at 32 hours per week.
Haber opened Monday’s meeting by suggesting Suiter’s contract be renewed for another three months while the town reopens the search. The goal would be to find a “consensus candidate” by July, he said.
Haber claimed it’s not in the town’s best interests to have an interim town manager in place for an extended time on the financial terms the council majority offered.
Boineau, Butler and Kucker repeatedly said they were positive they came up with the best candidate in the hiring process after the former manager resigned to take a different job last year. Kucker was visibly frustrated with the minority’s position. “This is a democracy. There was a third vote in favor of Gary,” he said.
In the statement he read, Boineau said, “One doesn’t get to change the rules of the game because one has lost.”
Different views of process
There were more than 150 applicants for the post. The headhunter narrowed down the field to nine and the council thinned it to seven late last year. The council members ranked their top three candidates and all five came up with the same field of three, though not all in the same order.
The two factions argued over two critical pieces of the hiring process. They disagreed on whether or not a citizens’ committee forwarded a recommendation and they disagreed on whether one of the three candidates was given a legitimate chance to work out a time for an interview. No conclusive evidence was presented at the meeting.
The majority claim Haber and Jacobson were on board with the way the hiring process was conducted — until they realized they were the minority regarding Suiter.
Suiter accepted the position on Feb. 3, though not as a full-fledged member of the staff. Because the council was split, he agreed to the $17,250 per month, three-month-at-a-time deal.
Jacobson said the majority overstepped their bounds by negotiating directly with Suiter to find out what he would require financially to take the position. He suggested they were being bullies to get their way.
“This appears to be the governing style of the majority, not to compromise in these matters, which has resulted in paying an indefensible amount to get their way,” he read from a prepared statement.
Haber insisted that if Suiter doesn’t want the full-time post, the town has no choice but to try again to find a permanent manager. The three-month contract at a hefty consultant’s fees doesn’t do Snowmass Village justice, he said.
“I think the town is left in a lurch, and we’re paying a premium for that,” he said.
The majority’s approach is “kicking the can down the road” for the next council to deal with, Haber added. The positions of Boineau, Haber and Kucker are up for election in November. Boineau cannot run for mayor again because of term limits but he is eligible to run for council, if he so desires.
After more than an hour Monday, the council’s stalemate remained firmly in place.
“It has not been a fun experience for myself or anyone sitting here,” Butler said.
Admonished by audience
Only about six residents attended the meeting. Two of them admonished the council for the ongoing feud.
“I’m the guy who incorporated Snowmass Village. This is not the Snowmass Village I anticipated,” said resident Gary Rosenau. What’s happening is making him “sick,” he said. He endorsed Suiter for the town manager job.
“I think he’s damn generous to put up with this kind of crap,” Rosenau said.
Snowmass Village resident and former councilman Arnie Mordkin said Suiter would be “nuts” to take the permanent job prior to the November election. He didn’t take sides but scolded the entire council for pointing fingers and assigning blame rather than trying to solve the issue.
“That’s where you’re failing the community,” Mordkin said.
He suggested Butler was on the right path by suggesting the council should speak to their search consultant on how long a second search would take, and whether candidates would be spooked by the council’s dysfunction on the issue.
After encouragement from Mordkin and others from the audience, Butler made a motion for the council to quiz their search consultant at the April 21 meeting. It passed, 4-1, with Jacobson in dissent.
Once the council talks to the consultant, it will be in a better position how to proceed in the long term with hiring a manager, Butler said.
For consistency’s sake, Jacobson made a motion to terminate Suiter’s contract. Haber seconded the motion but it died on a 2-3 vote.