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CDC to seek interim director

Reversing their decision made Feb. 28, the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation voted unanimously on Monday (following an earlier meeting in executive session) to accept the resignation of Executive Director Steve Vassallo.

According to a news release dated March 14 from the CDC and circulated during Monday’s meeting, “After consultation with Mr. Vassallo, the PSCDC board of directors has accepted Steve’s resignation. The PSCDC board has asked Rich Lindblad to assist with a review of the board’s structure, including membership and privatization options. While this task is underway, the board will review options for filling the executive director position.”

After board president Mike Alley read the statement to board members and to about 25 people in attendance, he asked for a motion to accept the resignation. Pagosa Springs mayor and board member Ross Aragon made the motion with board member Marion Francis seconding. With a quick vote, the board approved the resignation unanimously (to take effect later this month).

Speaking to the board, board member and county commissioner John Ranson said that, “The next week or so, we’re going to interview several candidates for an interim position ... until a permanent position can be decided on.”

Monday’s vote represented a shift from a previous decision by the board.

Following an executive session on March 3, the CDC decided to retain its executive director, Steve Vassallo, through April 1, 2011, a move apparently meant to buy time after Vassallo submitted an earlier letter of resignation to the CDC board of directors during the board’s Feb. 28 meeting. Immediately following the nearly two-hour March 3 executive session, the board issued a statement reading, “The Pagosa Springs Community Development Board has agreed to continue Steve Vassallo’s contract through April 1, 2011 and is negotiating to retain his future services.”

However, another executive session held by the CDC board on March 11 precipitated the board’s reversal on Monday.

According to Alley, the negotiations for Vassallo’s contract (referenced in the CDC’s March 3 statement) led to the board’s decision to accept the executive director’s resignation. Alley confirmed on Tuesday that Vassallo had requested to change from a nearly full-time position (with one week per month spent in Texas working with another municipality) to a part-time consulting position, as well as claiming a percentage of CDC membership fees sold as commission.

Vassallo asked for $5,000 per week as his fee for consulting and 20 percent of the membership fees.

“We rejected that offer because we need someone full time in that position,” Alley said. “Economic development is too important for this area to leave it to a part-time position.”

Alley said that after last Friday’s decision to accept Vassallo’s resignation, the board’s Monday afternoon executive session (prior to the board meeting) was held to discuss how best to fill Vassallo’s position with an interim executive director.

Alley added that the board hoped to have an interim executive director within the next two weeks, but could not give a timeline on when a permanent full-time executive director would be taking the CDC helm.

Alley said that the board’s decision was also partially based on recent controversy regarding Vassallo’s performance as CDC executive director but added that he and the board were nonetheless pleased with Vassallo’s performance.

“Steve did a lot of good for here,” Alley stated. “There were some mistakes, but everyone makes mistakes.”

Vassallo’s previous resignation letter came after questions were raised in the media regarding the CDC’s direction, especially with public funding to the tune of almost $130,000, as well as apparent conflicts of interest regarding the development of the CDC website.

On Monday, an agenda item addressing maintenance contracts for that website (with the company contracted to develop the site) was tabled.

Vassallo’s tenure as executive director of the CDC first garnered controversy in January after he made statements supporting the proposed Village at Wolf Creek development during an economic development summit hosted by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Several community leaders and local officials who were also attending that summit expressed dismay at Vassallo’s seeming to speak for the area at large, especially with the Village at Wolf Creek continuing to be a contentious issue and certainly far from settled at the level of local government, much less among area residents.

Less than a month later, further contention arose when it was revealed that the new CDC website (launched in late January) had been contracted to Bone Marketing, an out-of-state firm and a company Vassallo had dealt with in the past. Several area residents (especially some local Web developers) objected to the contract, asserting that the CDC should have awarded the contract to local talent, especially in light of the CDC’s goal of economic development in Archuleta County.

That issue deepened further when it was revealed that Vassallo’s wife, Rosie, had been retained by Bone Marketing in late December as a consultant for the firm.

With Vassallo’s resignation, the CDC structure remains a bare-bones operation. Currently, two board seats remain open (following resignations) and, with John Ranson’s resignation as county commissioner (see related story, page A1), the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners could soon need to appoint a representative to the board.

In the coming weeks, the CDC will most likely have its hands full filling empty positions (the organization’s secretary also recently resigned), distracting it from its purported mission — to support economic development in the area.

jim@pagosasun.com

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