Guest commentary: City Manager pens farewell after 19 years | AspenTimes.com

Guest commentary: City Manager pens farewell after 19 years

Steve Barwick
Guest commentary

I am honored to have served as Aspen’s city manager for 19 years. The challenges of the position have been obvious enough that friends frequently comment, “I don’t know how you do it” and “What a thankless job you have!”

What these friends haven’t understood is that I love city management because it is a profession in which one can make a positive impact upon the lives of so many people. That community connection is hard to find in state and federal jobs and is even more remote in the private sector. Local government really is where the rubber hits the road.

The city of Aspen has had plenty of controversy over the past several decades and it will continue. It’s in our nature because Aspen is a unique community. We are always striving to define and create the best possible qualities in a resort community. (Why yes, Virginia, we can create world-class amenities while maintaining our egalitarian nature in the face of an onslaught from the world’s most wealthy — and show ’em all how to do it right!).

Aspen’s local government receives a huge volume of good suggestions from an intelligent and involved population and staff. Implementing the policy directives of a visionary council while leading a talented and determined staff has been a rewarding challenge.

In order to thrive in such a dynamic environment, the city’s organization has to be structured in a nontraditional manner that creates flexibility and opportunities to experiment. A top-down, command-and-control organization is inconsistent with Aspen’s values and aspirations. Within this nontraditional type of organization there is only one approach for the leader: never, ever seek or accept credit for any organizational success, and always accept the blame when things go wrong. I accept full responsibility for every fumble.

In addition to addressing a growing list of challenges to our notion of Aspen’s future, today’s local leaders face another challenge. In the words of another city management veteran: “This is a tough and brutal time to serve your community. The personal cost of leadership has never been so high. … Public service has always been hard, but in too many communities, public service has devolved from hard to brutal.

“It can be emotionally wearying just to endure the constant slings and arrows of trolls who thrive on mean-spirited name-calling. They often knowingly disseminate false information with a conscious goal of dividing the community. It is even more frustrating and hurtful when it is a colleague on the council modeling the worst behaviors of divisiveness to try and get his or her way.”

In this day and age, it takes a great deal of courage to run for elected office. City Council members (and staff) constantly receive volleys of social media “slime missiles” that can make it hard to focus on creating Aspen’s best future. I ask that you help candidates in the upcoming elections stay on the positive side as they navigate today’s political climate in service to this amazing, matchless community.

I am honored to have been your city manager, partner, and friend for these past 19 years.

Happy trails and deep powder, y’all!


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