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Suiter handing over reins at Snowmass Town Hall

Jill Beathard
Snowmass Sun

Gary Suiter, Snowmass Village’s interim town manager since August 2013, is leaving that post Sept. 12 to make way for a full-time hire.

Suiter, who was town manager from 1990 to 2001 and has since worked as a consultant to businesses and governments, said the hardest part of an interim job is when it ends.

“You become attached to the people,” Suiter said. “You create these relationships — many of them which I still keep and many of them which come back around and generate business in the future — that are hard to leave sometimes, and it will be hard to leave here.”

Suiter was hired to act as town manager after Russ Forrest resigned from the position to take a job in Gunnison County. Although there were many familiar faces in Town Hall when Suiter returned to take on the job, many things had changed in Snowmass, particularly with all of the new development.

“The biggest thing that’s different is as opposed to trying to get Base Village built for 12 years, it was built when I came back, or at least a third built,” Suiter said. “To have that as water under the bridge was a good thing because it was a lot of brain damage, a lot of processes in the ’90s, a number of developers that didn’t want to deal with it.”

In addition, many of the facilities at the town’s entryway, such as the recreation center, were completed during his absence. The town went through three planning processes for that area during the ’90s and recently began another one.

“Now we have a lot more that’s fixed down there,” Suiter said.

Within the town’s government, the Parks, Recreation and Trails Department has expanded, and Snowmass Tourism, the town’s marketing, special events and group sales department, has been added. Suiter said the community tried for years to determine the best way to operate the town’s marketing, which used to be handled by the Snowmass Village Resort Association. The SVRA operated on a civic assessment and eventually turned its role over to the town department, which is funded by sales and lodging taxes.

“It’s a unique model,” Suiter said. “I think it’s great to have it under the town umbrella. I think it makes it much more transparent.”

Suiter has left his mark on Town Hall by hiring four department heads — for Public Works, Community Development, Police and Snowmass Tourism — in the past year. There were two retirements and two resignations in addition to Forrest’s.

“I’ve been able to kind of leave some fingerprints here with the team we’ve put together,” Suiter said, although he added that staff members — and residents and stakeholders in the case of the Snowmass Tourism director, who will be announced before Suiter’s departure — helped quite a bit.

“There is a stigma or a perception out there that interims just come in and they put their feet up on the desk and they just keep the ship from sinking,” Suiter said. “But I don’t like to do that. I’m passionate about local governments, and I’m passionate about them being effective and efficient, and I see things that aren’t right and I want to fix them.”

Rocky road

Suiter’s tenure as interim town manager hasn’t been without conflict. During the search process for a full-time hire, three of the council members voted to offer him the job, but he turned it down, not wanting to work for a split council.

“I’ve been through ugly situations in the past,” Suiter said. The key is to “keep your head on straight” and not get involved in the politics, he said.

Still, it’s hard not to take it personally.

“When people attack your integrity … yeah, you take it personally,” Suiter said. “It hurts. To say it doesn’t, I’d be lying. But publicly, yeah, you’ve just got to put on the face and move forward, come back to work the next morning and keep chipping away at the job that needs to be done.”

The Town Council ultimately offered the job to Clint Kinney, currently city manager in Fruita, who will start Sept. 15. Suiter stands by his decision to turn down the council’s offer.

“It’s very, very difficult to work under a split council and be effective,” Suiter said. “It makes everything more difficult. … It was a hard decision. I wanted the job. But I think it was the right decision.”

Looking forward

One of the biggest responsibilities the town will have moving forward is managing the events that Snowmass Tourism has developed. A year ago, Suiter called a meeting of town staff members from all the involved departments — Transportation, Police, Communications and more — to debrief on how events went that summer. Now that group still meets regularly to make sure events run smoothly.

“These events we’re having this summer are like nothing I’ve ever seen in Snowmass Village before, and I think they’re really needed, and I think they should continue until we get people saying ‘that’s enough,’” Suiter said.

As for Suiter, the next big project he’s starting is a transportation planning job in the Albuquerque, New Mexico, metro area — after a short vacation with his wife, Fran.

Living in Blue Lake has meant that the Suiters have maintained connections in Snowmass Village and the rest of the valley, even as their consulting business takes them away from home. That will continue to be true, he said.

“Thanks to the community for their support, and thanks to the three council members that provided support to me through this last year,” Suiter said. “I appreciate the leadership that they had shown in order to resolve the town-manager issue. They had to compromise, and I think that exhibited leadership for them to do that.

“I wish everyone good luck moving forward.”

jbeathard@snowmasssun.com


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