Don’t get cheap, set some clear guidelines and goals, form a selection committee, involve the entire board and many citizens, and expect a challenging transition. Moreover, don’t expect this process to occur overnight, with a selection period that could take months.
These are some of the suggestions offered by state experts from the Colorado Municipal League (CML) and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) regarding the possibility of Green Mountain Falls hiring its first ever town manager in the 100-plus-year history of the Ute Pass community.
This idea has been mulled by the GMF board of trustees as part of a way to run town affairs more efficiently and establish better communications with citizens. However, the town manager idea has sparked many questions from local residents, especially for a local government that only has a handful of full-time employees.
Due to the strong interest in this subject, the town held a recent public meeting that featured detailed information and plenty of professional advice. But the forum didn’t give leaders any set recommendations on what actions they should take, such as who should be hired and at what salary. “The board (of trustees) sets policies and the manager carries out the day-to-day administration of the town,” said Sam Mamet, executive director of CML, in describing a basic explanation of a system of running local governments that actually started in Colorado during the wild West days of Teddy Roosevelt. In many ways, this government system, initially referred to as business management, started as a way to curb corruption and political money squandering, noted Mamet.
On the upside, Mamet told the board and a group of citizens who attended the meeting that GMF wouldn’t be unique in doing this structure of government, even with a population base of less than 1,000 people. He estimated that out of 158 statutory towns like GMF, about 44 have official managers or administrators. And out of this number, he believes about 20 are small towns.
One local small town example is Victor, which added an administrator to its ranks several years ago. Another small community the state experts cited was South Fork, which recently pursued the town manager route.
But that said, Mamet stressed that CML isn’t pushing the idea. He stated that the addition of a town manager represents a change in the structure of government, rather than a big government overhaul as some critics have portrayed the change. “You are really hiring another staff person,” said Clay Brown, a regional manager of DOLA. “The choice is yours,” said Mamet, who cited both advantages and disadvantages. And if GMF wants to embark on this course, he advocated setting clear guidelines and not hiring a town manager in a “wink and a handshake” fashion. “The clearer (the guidelines) the better,” added Mamet. “The rules of the game have to be spelled out. Otherwise, you are asking for trouble.”
The experts’ advice stirred many comments. Several trustees asked about a timetable, with GMF facing a big election next April during which four seats will be decided. Veteran trustee Mac Pitrone asked about the prospects of hiring a current employee or department head that is already fulfilling many aspects of the town manager job. He was referring to Public Works Director Rob McArthur, who is the favored pick among several leaders.
According to both Mamet and Brown, GMF can pursue any action it wants. They explained that small communities with the town manager/administrator format use a variety of techniques, such as having several communities share an administrator, combining positions like clerk/manager, developing a lengthy pursuit process for a full-time manager and even partially funding the position through grants. “We want this to be successful,” said Brown, who outlined a possible state grant program the town could use, if it made attempts to fund this position within several years. He urged the board to get started right now in evaluating this possibility of having a future town manager during its budget hearings.
As for a salary for the position, Mamet urged the board not to be penny pinchers. “You are not going to do it on the cheap,” said Mamet. And with the area’s proximity to Colorado Springs and its ideal quality of life, he estimated GMF could get plenty of applicants for a potential town manager position. “You wouldn’t have trouble finding people for this position,” said Mamet, who expected an application pool of between 30 and 50.
He also suggest tapping into the region’s abundance of retired military members, who may not need a big salary. Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery, who attended part of the forum, suggested picking a person who is a good leader. He also made a plug for the council/managerial type of government used in Woodland Park and many Colorado communities. Buttery also stressed the importance of having good relations between the manager and the council.
Still, the forthcoming process stirred many questions. Rich Bowman of the Green Mountain Falls/Chipita Park Fire Department, suggested establishing a goal-setting process initially. While admitting he had mixed views on the idea of a town manger, he urged the entire board to do some serious goal-setting work. “Goal-setting has to be done for the council as a whole,” said Bowman. “It is not working properly right now. You have to start goal setting right now.”