Blumenthal: Town Council division does damage to community
We rarely, if ever, get a glimpse into the secret discussions that take place in ever-increasing numbers during the Snowmass Village Town Council’s executive sessions.
The rules guiding these sessions specify that the participants are not to make any decisions during them; only advice and discussion is allowed.
It appears the Town Council members got caught with their pants down when, in a recent closed-door session, a slim three-member council majority — Mayor Bill Boineau and council members Markey Butler and Fred Kucker — in the face of strong opposition from Councilmen Jason Haber and Chris Jacobson, decided to extend Gary Suiter’s town manager consulting contract for an unlimited number of successive three-month extensions, which automatically renew unless the council or Gary elects to terminate it, which under the circumstances neither is likely to do.
After being queried by the Sun, the town leadership team quickly reversed course and decided to deal with the contract extension in public view. Thus we got a rare glimpse into the dysfunctional decision-making processes and lack of collegiality between the village’s elected representatives that until now has only been rumored.
It appears our elected representatives don’t like or respect one another, and when their emotions become aroused, which appears to be happening more frequently, let the public be damned. Polarization between the majority and minority council factions, which results in their inability to build a consensus on big issues, has damaged and will continue to damage our community.
Gary rightfully decided not to take the full-time job without a consensus of the entire council, which is the modus operandi in most towns with structures similar to ours.
But as the result of persistent pleadings by the council majority, Gary took advantage of the majority/minority split and proposed a part-time position, which included unusually high total costs for a limited 32-hour workweek plus additional high overtime costs along with most of the accoutrements of a full-time position, including town-supplied housing, expense reimbursement and liability coverage. The majority quickly agreed to the proposal without negotiation in spite of the fact that those costs likely will far exceed the total dollars budgeted by the town for this function.
If our elected representatives had continued working toward a consensus in the selection of a full-time town manager, the costs to the town likely would have been considerably less since a consultant generally costs more than a full-time employee in the same position.
The town budget provides $210,423 for salary and the employer’s share of payroll taxes and benefits for this position. Under the deal proposed by Gary, he will be paid about $240,000 including overtime on an annualized basis for a traditional 40-hour workweek, plus additional overtime above 40 hours at the rate of $120 per hour. Since four of his past five monthly billings have contained overtime, it’s more than likely that his future billings will include increasing amounts of overtime since we are just coming into a crucial period of development approvals concerning the completion of Base Village and other important community issues, such as completion of the entryway.
Although several members of the council majority stated that Gary’s compensation was within the parameters of the town budget, they were not correct and either misguided in their assumption or just praying we wouldn’t check it out.
For comparison purposes, it’s interesting to note the cost of Aspen’s long-term city manager and the Pitkin County manager, both of whom have much bigger operations and staffs to supervise than exists in our village, is considerably less than what’s been approved for Gary Suiter. Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick earned $173,763 before benefits in 2013, and Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock made $152,250 in 2013, according to an article in the Aspen Daily News. In addition, Gary’s consulting services are part-time and not exclusive to Snowmass, so he also can render services outside his obligations to Snowmass for whatever additional compensation he can negotiate. Our town is likely the laughingstock of municipal governments.
During the council discussion, it also became clear that the three-member council majority has not given up on trying to convince Gary to accept the full-time town manager position. Based on their remarks, they don’t plan to look for a consensus candidate; they just intend to wait out the November election, at which point Jason Haber will be up for re-election. I understand they hope to replace Jason with a new council member more sympathetic to their views and hope Gary will find a 4-1 split more palatable than a 3-2 split and accept their full-time job offer at that point.
But there could be a surprise upset in the offing. If, as rumored, Jason Haber decides to run against Markey Butler for mayor (Bill Boineau is term-limited as mayor and is considering a run for a council seat) and Jason and Chris Jacobson’s constituents rise up in significant-enough numbers and bring along with them at least one new council member sympathetic to their views, a whole new majority will arise and likely say goodbye to Gary Suiter, who by that point unfortunately will have pocketed a good chunk of our tax dollars. But just chalk that up to political infighting and poor decision making.
It’s going to be an interesting and bumpy 10 months. Fasten your seat belts.
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