Exit Day Looming for Woodland Park City Manager

Finance Chief Named as Interim Town Boss

Trevor Phipps

After a several year reign as Woodland Park’s head boss, City Manager Michael Lawson  recently announced he was stepping down to take a new job in Parker.

Last week, the council wasted little time in naming a replacement and formalizing the changing of the guard. More specifically, an  Aug. 4 departure date was confirmed for Lawson and the appointment of an interim manager was made.

Lawson has been at the helm of the city’s operations for three years, assuming a position that has become quite volatile in recent years, with the last two head bosses lasting less than five years.

In lieu of  Lawson’s departure, the city council held an executive session before the regularly scheduled council meeting last week to discuss the process for handling a replacement. There was also an item on the agenda that dealt with naming a new interim city boss.

Towards the end of the meeting, the council voted unanimously to appoint the city’s current finance director, Aaron Vassalotti, as the interim city manager. The council also approved a 12 percent raise from the salary he makes in his current position.

According to Mayor Hilary LaBarre, Vassalotti stepped up and volunteered to take the lead until the council can find a permanent replacement.

The move marks a big change  from what the city has done previously, when the head manager position became vacant. In the past, whenever a city manager stepped down, Assistant City Manager and City Clerk Suzanne Leclercq assumed the position as the interim head boss.

During the executive session that took place before the meeting, the council discussed their options. The council then brought  Vassalotti into the executive session to discuss the possible details of his interim city manager contract.

This set the stage for Vassalotti to become the city’s new head boss on an interim basis. But under one scenario, he could become the permanent city manager.

Before a motion was made to vote on the interim city manager’s appointment, Councilman Robert Zuluaga welcomed Vassalotti to the podium so the public could learn  more about him.

“I have been the finance director here for almost the last two years,” Vassalotti said. “I have served in a few different roles here. A few months ago, I was promoted to the administrative services director. In my role as finance director, I oversee finance which is budget, general ledger, and annual audit. I also oversee all aspects of IT here. I oversee fleet management and I oversee procurement and grants.”

He said that his family lives in Woodland Park and that they enjoy it. “I hope to continue to provide continuity and leadership during this transition period and I look forward to it,” said the finance chief.

Before the official vote on the interim city manager appointment, Mayor Pro Tem Kellie Case indicated that the council during its executive session had reached a consensus to pick Vassalotti for the position. At the same time, she said that the council was going to conduct a search to secure a permanent manager.

“We understand that Mr. Vassalotti intends to apply for the permanent position and he is interested in that position going forward,” Case explained. “But, we will put that out on a search and Vassalotti would have to apply as any other candidate that would apply. But, in the interim we need somebody to serve in that role and he seems to be the best suited and willing to take that on.”

According to Leclercq, Vassalotti will be sworn in during Lawson’s last council meeting. “We will swear Mr. Vassalotti in at the council meeting on August 3,” Leclercq said. “That will be Michael’s last meeting so it will be a peaceful transfer of power.”

Looking Back at Lawson’s Reign as City Manager

Lawson hails from Southern California originally, but he has lived in Colorado since 2008. When Lawson first moved to the state he lived in southeastern Aurora.

Lawson worked for the city of Aurora for 12 years before he was hired as the assistant city manager of Woodland Park by former City Manager Darrin Tangeman in October 2020. After serving in that role for a month and a half, Lawson was appointed the interim city manager, following  Tangeman’s sudden resignation. In June 2021, Lawson was named as the permanent city manager.

As soon as Lawson became city manager, he was tasked with fixing a police station that experienced turmoil after losing its chief and two head commanders. Lawson played a role in hiring an interim chief and deputy chief, before hiring the current police chief, Chris Deisler.

In a press release, Lawson has cited the  successes he has experienced since he took the city’s management reins.  He mentioned paying off the city’s debt for Memorial Park, stabilizing turnover and increasing staff compensation as some of his major contributions.

“We have made building trust with the community the foundation of all we do,” Lawson said. “Through community engagement efforts like building more transparency into the budget and adding the ‘What’s Up Woodland Park’ digital democracy platform, I believe we made progress on earning that trust.”

Lawson’s last day as the city boss will be August 4. After his departure, Lawson will become the Assistant Town Manager of Parker.

“The city council extends our heartfelt congratulations to our city manager as he embarks on an exciting new chapter in his professional journey,” Mayor LaBarre said of Lawson’s resignation. “We would also like to express our sincere gratitude for his dedicated service and invaluable contributions to our community. I wish his beautiful family the best, they will be missed.”