Aspen will have new interim city manager as tenured Steve Barwick resigns amid controversy
Within the next two weeks, Aspen City Council plans to sign a separation agreement with City Manager Steve Barwick and ink an employment contract with Assistant City Manager Sara Ott to replace him on an interim basis.
That was the direction given Monday as council navigates through making Barwick’s departure as smooth as possible for the community and the 300-plus employees who work for the city.
Barwick, who was asked to resign by a majority of council last week, said he will likely be gone from his 19-year job by March 1 but will give a three-week notice regardless.
Council has agreed to his payout terms, which include a severance of a year’s salary at just over $195,000, as well as one year in the home he purchased from the city, health insurance for him and his wife for six months through COBRA, valued at almost $9,400, and whatever vacation and sick time he has accrued.
Barwick will have to sell the home he bought from the city in 1995 for $210,500 within three months if he gets a new job. The same goes for the insurance; if he receives insurance from a new employer the city will stop paying the COBRA payments. If he gets a new job and is on a probationary period in which insurance does not kick in for a month or two, the city will continue to pay COBRA.
City Attorney Jim True said the separation contract has been drafted and needs to be signed off on by Barwick and his lawyer, which could happen next week.
Ott’s contract for interim city manager is expected to be ready for council approval by Jan. 28. It will likely include a start date and an end date, a salary and bestow whatever power is required to be city manager.
Barwick will then fill the role as an adviser to Ott, who has been in her job for a year and a half.
“Steve and I have committed to having it be as smooth of a transition as possible,” Ott said.
In the meantime, Alissa Farrell, the city’s human resource director, will prepare to issue a request for proposals for a headhunting firm to begin the national search for a permanent city manager, a process that will likely take months.
With a March 5 election in which Aspen voters will elect a new mayor and two council members who will take office in June, the transition of power and attracting the right candidates could get tricky, Mayor Steve Skadron said.
“It is very likely that the decision will be made by a new council,” he said.
Whatever recruiting firm is chosen will help council determine what it wants in a new city manager and create a profile for potential applicants.
Councilman Adam Frisch said council needs to rely on Farrell for advice moving forward.
“It’s been a long time since this community has had to look for a new city manager,” he said.
Council generally agreed that the workload priorities for staff during the transition be limited to hiring a recruitment firm, focusing on day-to-day operations, shepherding a new governance structure for the local affordable-housing program, developing a new 37,500-square-foot municipal office building at Rio Grande Place and dealing with immediate technology issues.
“The reality is we can’t do everything,” Skadron said of the long transition period.
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Kevin Warner started his career with the U.S. Forest Service as a wilderness ranger in 2001. Now he’s taking over the key position as Aspen-Sopris District Ranger.