Blumenthal: Suiter not right for right now
Over the past few weeks, there’s been lots of discussion around town, in the local papers and in this column concerning the long-term hiring of a very expensive part-time, nonexclusive consultant who carries the title of town manager as well as public evidence of a severely divided and dysfunctional Town Council.
During the recent economic downturn, when things came to a standstill, we likely could have tolerated the lack of strong, experienced and collegial leadership better than we can afford to tolerate it today now that things are heating up.
A part-time town manager who does not have the respect or confidence of the entire council is not the right person for the job, no matter how smart or nice he might be, particularly when strong outside forces such as Related Colorado and Aspen Skiing Co. are banging on the door and our Community Development and Tourism departments are leaderless.
It’s the height of arrogance and insanity that a slim majority of our elected representatives can’t get over their emotional dislike for their colleagues and work collegially to identify a permanent town manager who has the professional experience, charisma and leadership skills to do the job that’s required on a full-time basis.
It’s not just the excessive cost of this part-time consultant that is problematic. After close observation, he doesn’t appear up to the difficult task of guiding and managing the town through the critical challenges that lie ahead. That’s not just my opinion but the opinion of many others in the community as well as all members of the council’s handpicked community advisory group, six out of seven of whom favored Clint Kinney, currently Fruita’s city manager. The advisory group’s preference was totally ignored by the council majority in pushing through its appointment of Gary Suiter to this position.
If by some chance there are any doubters out there as to what I’ve opined, simply check out the archived recording of the Feb. 18 Town Council meeting at http://www.tosv.com and make up your own mind. Pay particular attention to the town manager’s report toward the end of the meeting as well as the discussion items following that report.
Another current example among a formidable list of other examples of Suiter’s failure to take charge and direct the debate on key issues can be witnessed on the same recording. Related was appealing a decision by the interim community development director, who determined that Related’s current Base Village planned-unit-development amendment application is a major amendment as opposed to Related’s desire that it be classified as a minor amendment. A minor amendment moves through the review process with substantially less staff, council and public scrutiny than normally would be the case for a major amendment.
Dwayne Romero, president of Related Colorado, and his hired gun, Aspen-based attorney Joe Krabacher, appeared uncomfortable dealing with the established law on this issue and instead spent most of their presentation discussing elements of their proposed development plan that were not relevant to the appellate proceedings. Since Related was shaky on the law, it attempted to put up attractive smokescreens intended to divert the council’s attention away from the issue at hand.
The town manager should have taken charge and not allowed the discussion to veer into the weeds, but once again he failed to do so. It was John Dresser, town attorney, who finally stepped in to do the town manager’s job, as he often feels it necessary to do.
Fortunately former Town Councilman Arnie Mordkin, who spoke during the public-comment portion of this discussion, clearly, succinctly and persuasively decimated each and every one of Related’s arguments. Following Arnie’s presentation, the council voted unanimously to uphold the determination made by the interim community development director and rejected Related’s appeal.
What Arnie did so successfully is what the town manager and/or mayor should have done much earlier in the meeting to get the discussion back on the right track, but neither did so. I realize the mayor is in a difficult political spot on such matters, but at the end of the day it’s the job of our highly paid professional consultant to take charge and do so. Again, if you doubt me, check out the records of our two prior town managers.
I, as well as many others, had a great deal of respect for Gary when he refused to take the job without full council support, as is the normal course in towns with governance structures similar to ours. But that went out the window when he was bought off by a slim majority of our council that simply opened up the town’s bank account and gave Gary whatever he wanted — too bad for us and for him.
Suiter is a very likable fellow and likely better than my words above suggest, but not now, not with this council and not for the work immediately before us.
I was in the Vail Valley most of last week skiing with three members of the Ecumenical Council of Sometime Fellow Travelers, and although the camaraderie and ski conditions were exceptional, it’s always wonderful to be back home in our fair village, where the coffee flows at Starbucks, Fuel and Base Camp and the conversation never ends.
If not a coffee drinker, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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