Blumenthal: Public is paying the price for council split | AspenTimes.com

Blumenthal: Public is paying the price for council split

Mel Blumenthal

It appears a slim three-person Town Council majority composed of Mayor Bill Boineau and council members Markey Butler and Fred Kucker were hell-bent at any cost to convert Gary Suiter’s interim town manager consultancy to a long-term employment position.

However, fouling their plan, at least from a full-consensus standpoint, were the two remaining councilmen, Jason Haber and Chris Jacobson, who both voiced strong objection to Suiter’s hiring as well as the consensus opinion of the council’s handpicked, six-member community advisory committee, which concluded that Suiter was not the preferred candidate between the two finalists, who were whittled down from a field in excess of 150 applicants.

In most right-thinking municipalities with a similar structure to ours, best practice dictates that the selection of the town manager should result from the unanimous consensus of the decision-makers — but apparently that sound philosophy is not operational in Snowmass Village.

Rather than continuing to work together collegially to arrive at a consensus candidate, the majority, in a fit of anger directed toward their two colleagues, simply flexed their numerical muscles and maneuvered an indefinite extension of Suiter’s interim position, thereby anointing him the de facto full-time town manager. And guess what — we’re all literally going to pay the price for their emotionally charged decision made in haste and anger.

In most right-thinking municipalities with a similar structure to ours, best practice dictates the selection of the town manager should result from the unanimous consensus of the decision-makers — but apparently that sound philosophy is not operational in Snowmass Village.

All signals now point to an irreconcilable polarization between the members of the Town Council, which likely will lead to further dysfunction and division, negatively impacting many other upcoming important decisions and all to the detriment of our community.

One might ask why Suiter would willingly put himself in the middle of this totally dysfunctional mess that is likely to make his life and job a living hell. I can only guess, but I imagine a huge economic windfall might have had something to do with his decision to endure the ongoing punishment he’ll likely face at the hands of a divided council.

Faced with a split vote that would have publicly signaled that Suiter did not have the full council’s support for his long-term employment, he proposed an agreement that on its face appears to be an extension of his consulting agreement but due to its indefinite term turns out to be exactly the same long-term position that all except the three single-minded council members thought he wasn’t right or ready for.

Several weeks ago, before the polarization factor appeared as baked in as it appears today, Suiter was considering an offer from the town for the full-time position that included an annual compensation of $145,000 (a sum slightly higher than his longtime predecessor, Russ Forrest, was receiving before he had the good sense to haul ass out of Dodge) plus housing at the town manager’s house in the Crossings with Suiter picking up the cost of utilities.

The deal proposed by Suiter last week and accepted by the three-member council majority without negotiation provides for a nonexclusive, part-time consulting position with Suiter acting as town manager for 138 hours per month (approximately 32 hours per week) at a fee that annualized comes out to $207,000 plus $120 per hour over 138 hours plus housing, utilities, an office, expense reimbursement and liability and other insurance coverage provided by the town’s insurance carrier for appointed officials. Assuming Suiter works a 40-hour week, which would be the bare minimum for this significant position, his annualized compensation would total about $240,000 and likely much more due to the additional hours required to deal with all the major development and other projects on the town’s near and long-term agenda.

From my close observation of Suiter’s work since his arrival on the job early last fall, it does not yet appear over the past decade since he last served as Snowmass Village’s town manager that he’s acquired the requisite leadership and management skills needed for this position.

In my opinion and apparently that of other knowledgeable observers in the community, the prudent course of action would have been to offer him a limited extension of his current consulting agreement with terms similar to those currently in effect in order to provide a bit more time to determine whether he can actually rise to the challenges of the job while continuing the search for a consensus candidate who has the full support of the entire council — and perhaps at the end of the day Suiter will prove to all concerned that he’s the right candidate.

The fact that Suiter has decided to stick around indefinitely under the dysfunctional conditions that currently exist in exchange for his proposed big payday, which the council majority agreed to in haste and anger, says a lot about his and their integrity, or lack thereof, and should serve as a further cautionary warning that he and they might not be fit for their respective positions and perhaps never will be.

Since Suiter is an independent service provider and not an employee for hire, the town might not yet be bound by its agreement with Suiter until vetted and voted on in public session, giving the council majority a last-ditch chance to come to their senses.

As a friend of mine’s Uncle Walder once observed, “Little good comes when stubbornness fueled by anger replaces tolerance born of collegiality in pursuit of common benefit.”

Fuel and Starbucks are good places to hash out these issues, or do it directly with me at secondview@earthlink.net.


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