For their benefit: City managers can be hard to recruit and retain in resort towns
Two of the city of Aspen’s top officials are up for raises tonight as elected officials are set to evaluate the performance of City Manager Steve Barwick and City Attorney Jim True.
In a confidential memo obtained by The Aspen Times, City Human Resources Director Alissa Farrell recommends to council that Barwick and True receive between 4 percent and 6 percent raises.
Barwick’s total compensation package is $188,930, which includes his salary and health insurance for him and his wife. He also lives in city-owned housing, which he purchased under the local housing authority guidelines.
Farrell notes in the memo that Barwick’s compensation is below market when factoring in his tenure, which is more than 17 years. Farrell wrote that the updated market target of $207,660 should be a goal to achieve for Barwick.
“Providing a 4 to 6 percent increase would allow for an incremental increase, with a further compensation analysis in 2018,” the memo reads. “At 4 percent, the city manager’s salary would be $192,460 and at 6 percent the city manager’s salary would be $196,161.”
True’s salary is $165,922. Using a citywide, standard compensation methodology, his market target is $185,971, according to the memo.
Council also could choose to give Barwick and True bonuses, as other similar municipalities did in 2017 to the tune of 1 percent and 2.5 percent.
Last year, Barwick received a 6.5 percent raise. During the recession years — between 2008 and 2011 — Barwick voluntarily did not get a salary increase.
In the early- to mid-2000s, Barwick did receive some hefty bonuses — in total more than $85,500 over a six-year period.
“At the time we had a council member who thought city manager pay should be more like the private sector and include a variable component,” Barwick wrote in an email, adding that he doesn’t recall what they were specifically awarded for. “Sorry, I’m afraid I don’t remember specifics about the bonuses.”
Farrell said while she is limited in discussing Barwick and True’s evaluations because it is a personnel matter, she said council uses a variety of criteria to measure their performance. Some of them are the city’s annual survey of residents, feedback from subordinates and department heads and comparable compensation packages in other local governments.
Other governments use a standard evaluation form specifically crafted for managers or employees, or councils create new goals each year.
Tenure versus turnover
Barwick is the longest-tenured city manager in the region, and his salary is just slightly higher than his counterparts based on a compensation survey conducted by Farrell and confirmed by The Aspen Times.
Other local governments have seen substantial turnover in their city managers over the years, with the most recent being in Rifle. Its town manager, Jim Nichols, left this week after only three months.
Human resource experts and public sector observers have mixed perspectives on whether it helps or hurts to have turnover at the top of local government.
Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, said the average tenure for a city manager in the state is between four and six years.
“Stability is good but it’s a fine line,” he said. “Cities that work best embrace stability but also look for fresh ideas.”
The city of Aspen, like most in the state, is a city manager form of government, meaning that the position serves at the pleasure of the mayor and council.
Often, politics play a part in whether a city manager remains in his or her position. Candidates running for office will call for the manager’s job to garner votes. Barwick has certainly felt that heat in the nearly two decades he’s been in the seat.
“Steve has certainly stayed the test of time,” Mamet said. “It’s a tough job to be a city manager.”
In resort towns where the cost of living is high, it can be difficult to recruit, so retention is key to keeping momentum in public policy and governance.
Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, who has been in politics and elected office for nearly 20 years, has seen her fair share of town managers come and go. When Mike Scanlon quit as town manager for Basalt in the summer of 2016, it took nearly a year to find a replacement. Ryan Mahoney was hired in June 2017. Whitsitt said the town government actually fared OK during the transition.
“We got a lot done in between Scanlon and Ryan,” she said.
Krista Miller, human resources director for the town of Vail, said its council lost some momentum during the time it took to hire its new town manager, Greg Clifton, who started in September.
“There’s always going to be challenges with turnover but there’s opportunity as well because you can get a new, fresh outlook,” she said.
Jacci McKenna, human resources director for Eagle County, said the government agency has lost momentum since its county manager retired a year ago.
She said they had a difficult time finding the ideal candidate, so the government took a break searching for one and recently went back to the market for a second time. Now there are four semi-finalists that the Board of County Commissioners will consider the week of March 19.
McKenna said it’s been challenging trying to find a solid candidate because of the high cost of living in resort areas. But it hasn’t been all bad.
“In some respects it’s been good because people have been promoted,” she said. “Most organizations would benefit from a new set of skills and ideas.”
She added that the city of Aspen is in a unique situation with Barwick.
“To have someone there for 17 years … that’s kind of special,” McKenna said.
The former Eagle County manager was making $182,000 a year; the government is advertising the position for up to $192,000 a year, partly because it doesn’t come with housing, McKenna said.
Before Snowmass Village Town Manager Clint Kinney took the job in 2014, the council spent a lot of money, time and energy arguing over the merits of its interim manager.
Kinney, who earns $154,500 a year and lives in a four- or five-bedroom house at no cost, said continuity can be helpful for government operations.
“There’s value in having consistency,” he said. “Tenure is important.”
Whitsitt said it was a long, drawn-out process to find Mahoney and the nationwide search wasn’t cheap.
“It’s tough to find the right person,” the mayor said. “But I’d rather hire a town manager than be one.”
|City||Budget||# of employees||Manager||Tenure/years||Salary||Additional Benefits
(outside of what is standard
for a full-time employee)
|Allowances (housing or auto):|
|Aspen||$128.3M||305||Steve Barwick||17||$185,058||City cell phone;
health insurance premiums for employee
and spouse. $3,872 annually.
|Snowmass||$34M||140||Clint Kinney||3||$154,500||Employer retirement
contribution of 12%;
cell phone provided;
100% paid family
1% bonus ($2,308).
|Four- or five-bedroom
house with no lease or
annualized housing value);
$4,200 annual auto;
$1,200 for cell phone.
|Basalt||$11M||30||Ryan Mahoney||Under 1||$155,000||Town cell phone||3-bedroom Willits unit
($24,000 housing allowance).
|Glenwood||$74M||231||Deb Figueroa||Under 2||$155,000||Cell phone|
|Vail||$87M||314||Greg Clifton||Under 1||$175,000||Cell phone, $70/month.||$6,000 annually for auto
if vehicle is not provided.
Housing is provided with
no lease or mortgage
($35,023 annualized housing value)
|Breckenridge||$65M||268||Rick Holman||2||$175,000||17% employer paid
|$12,000 auto allowance|
|Steamboat||$66.6M||280||Gary Suiter||Under 2||$190,550||Cell phone allowance
|Auto allowance of $550 a month.|
|Pitkin||$126M||300||Jon Peacock||8||$179,959||Cell phone and
1-3 annual bonus.
|Garfield||$105.6M||516||Kevin Batchelder||Under 2||$113,142||County cell phone;
additional paid days off
(up to 45 days per year).
|Eagle||$114M||475||Vacant||$192,000 (up to)|
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.