The Quest for a New City Manager In Woodland Park

An Historic Prospective:

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

If I could offer any advice to our humble elected leaders in Woodland Park in selecting a new head city boss, it’s this: Take a trip back to the late 1990s.

That’s when the council selected Mark Fitzgerald of Wisconsin as the head city manager. It culminated probably the most intensive search conducted, with many public meetings and interviews with the top prospects and a considerable amount of community involvement. This followed the resignation of then City Manager Don Howell, regarded at the time as one of the town’s more flamboyant head managers. Howell jolted many in the community with a city-paid glitzy auto that had enough gadgets to fund a trip to Mars.  

The current cadre of elected leaders should consider talking to members of that particular council, headed by Prentis Porter, as that process ranked as probably one of the most transparent. What happened when Fitzgerald resigned, and the council mulled a process in which they got hardly any applicants for the job?  That’s the big question.  How could the council screw up a search process so bad, after their predecessors did such a thorough job? 

Here is my journalistic advice: Don’t overreact in devising an overall system for picking a new city manager. After all you are not looking for someone who can walk on water. Too often, a city council tries to pick someone who has an entirely different skill set and personality from their departing manager. And as a result, they try to come up with a system that clashes with what worked in the past, just for the sake of change. The same goes for their ultimate selection of the new city boss.    

Unfortunately, complicating the current Woodland Park search is the fact that the city hasn’t done a new quest for a head manager in more than 10 years. And the idea of a city manager period has stirred much bad blood in many quarters of town, with many questioning the validity of the position.

Colorado Springs opted for a strong mayoral government a number of years back, but this move was partially attributed to problems the city experienced with former city managers, with many complaints about over-compensation and media access. That is one point that is missed by critics of the Springs’ current strong mayoral system. The Springs’ voters didn’t just opt for a strong mayoral system without reason. There were plenty of gripes regarding past Springs’ city managers, with many contending that this type of setup wasn’t working, even for a city as big as Colorado Springs. 

Insider or Out of State Candidates?

It will be interesting to see if Woodland Park tries to pick an out-of-state candidate or more of an insider. David Buttery, who lasted longer than any of his recent predecessors, emerged as the first person chosen within the current city hall ranks. David served as the public works director for 10 years, and was given the nod for the job when the top contenders for the job decided they didn’t want the position after all. This followed many letters of support for Buttery’s candidacy.

There are advantages and disadvantages with this type of an insider choice, or picking someone from the Pikes Peak region.

On the plus side, a more inside candidate is more attuned to the community and generally lasts longer. This was definitely true with Buttery, who was a familiar fixture at many community events. David even attended a post-funeral party for one of our former columnists. Out-of-state candidates, meanwhile, provide a more objective outlook, but generally use the job as a stepping stone to greener pastures.  

The whole complicated issue of deciding on a head government manager isn’t just reserved for Woodland Park.

Down the Pass, Green Mountain Falls’ initial experiment with a town manager ended in an abrupt failure recently, with the dismissal of Verla Bruner, with no apparent explanation.

Town leaders are confident about picking a new GMF boss, but many locals are skeptical. And even in the job description for the position, town leaders appear ready to repeat the same mistake.  

Representatives of the state Department of Local Affairs are big boosters of the town manager style of government for small communities, but they often don’t have to deal with the real life problems associated with this situation.

Maybe GMF’s new comprehensive master plan project will help clarify this issue. But don’t bet on a smooth, immediate transition in Green Mountain Falls for securing a manager that everyone likes.  And in towns like GMF, the de-incorporation drum sounds are always beating away.