Cripple Creek Appoints Familiar Interim City Boss

Town Leaders and Officials Divided Over Future Administrator Search

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

Following a lively public meeting, not lacking in opinions, Finance Director Paul Harris has resumed a familiar part-time role as the city’s head boss.

This is a post Harris has held for possibly close to 10 times, with the city’s trend of having a revolving door for city administrators in the last two decades.

However, several big questions remain:  How long will Harris serve as the city’s acting head administrator and how exactly will town leaders proceed in picking a permanent manager? Another option mulled is to possibly get another city department head to help out, if Harris’ plate gets too full.

Last week, the city held a public workshop on the administrator issue, prompted by the severing of ties between Mark Campbell and the city council several weeks ago.

Opinions were mixed on the best way to proceed in picking a permanent boss and whether the town should select another outside acting administrator to help fill the void for what could become a six-month search. Even attorney Erin smith conceded that there appeared to be “no consensus on how you want your process to look like.”

The  meeting was highly attended by government department heads who made it clear they wanted more input on the final selection of a city administrator.  Also, several council members did some soul searching, and admitted they may have dropped the ball themselves during the last pick of a top administrator.

In addition, some debate persisted on the use of an outside consulting firm, and whether city officials should have more oversight. “I would like us to do the job,” said City Clerk Janell Sciacca, in discussing the task of selecting a city administrator. She objected to relying on an outside firm to pick the next town boss.

When she served as the assistant city clerk in woodland Park, Sciacca noted that both her and Police Chief Mike Rulo, who then worked for Woodland Park, did their own internal investigations. And as a result, Woodland ended up with one their best city managers, according to Sciacca. “I would like to be more involved in the process,” added the clerk.

Other department leaders echoed similar sentiments, but didn’t take quite as strong as stand as Sciacca

“We are not progressing anywhere,” blasted Connie Dodrill, the director of the CC Parks and Recreation Department. “We need a stronger person to take the job.”

Dodrill believes the town, with its current staff, has so much potential, but just needs a good administrator to take the city to the next level. She argued that the input of city staff members was ignored during the previous head administrator selection.

“You can’t lead the horses to water,” admitted Councilwoman Meghan Rozell. Rozell believes the last selection effort was hampered by a highly divided council. “The problem last time was ourselves,” admitted Rozell.

However, the council member, who ran for mayor in the last election, is optimistic that the new council is much more united. Mayor Milford Ashworth contends that the city has good department heads and so believes the new administrator  needs to help the city address key community-wide problem areas, like affordable housing, rather than grappling with personnel issues.

A Frustrating Ordeal

Mayor Pro Tem Tom Litherland didn’t hesitate in voicing frustration over the city administrator ordeal. “City hall functions a lot better without an administrator,” quipped Litherland.

On a more serious note, Litherland admitted the town needs to find the right candidate and can’t do this in a rapid fashion. “If we hurry  it up, we may not find the right fit. It is so topsy-turvy. We have to hire somebody that is unique.”

The city officials and council members noted that although Cripple Creek is a small town with a population of less than 2,000 people, it bustles as a possible thriving destination hub with gaming, historic attractions and regular events. They believe the job could provide the right candidate with a prime opportunity.

Human Resources :Director Carol Stotts supported the idea of using the KRW consulting firm the city has utilized in the past for picking the top candidates, and then let the council make the final pick. But she agreed with Dodrill that the council needs to listen to the input of key staff members, and indicated a communications issue occurred during the last administrator selection process.  Some officials also suggested having more vetting of the final candidates

Despite the diverse views on what course of action the city should take in picking a permanent administrator, the council was strongly supportive of Harris serving as the interim town boss initially. Harris, who has worked for the city for about 25 years, will serve as the acting town administrator for the next few months. However, the finance chief made it clear he probably couldn’t make a six-month commitment with the forthcoming audit and other key duties facing his office.

“That would be quite challenging,” said Harris.

At last week’s meeting, several other department heads informally expressed an interested in helping out in serving the role as acting administrator, when Harris no longer has the time to devote to the post.

Another option is for the city to pick an acting administrator, based on the recommendations of KRW.

The council during their regular meeting, following the workshop, made their actions official and designated Harris as the Cripple Creek’s acting city administrator. Harris joked that he has now served this role at least seven times. Since 2005, the city has fielded close to 10 interim and permanent town bosses,  a rate that far exceeds neighboring entities, such as  Victor, Woodland Park, Manitou Springs and Teller County.