One thing is clear: The degree to which a group of elected officials find themselves in distress and embroiled in controversy is, in great part, testament to the skill (or lack of same) of that body’s chief administrative officer.
In short: The deeper the mess, the less competent the administrator. When the individual (and his or her staff) tasked with overseeing everyday operation of government falls down on the job, elected officials can make rash and uninformed decisions, government fails to operate in effective fashion. Things get out of hand, elected officials take off on destructive flights, situations grow unwieldy and mutate into problems not easily or quickly solved.
Such was the case with a previous school district board and a former superintendent. Such was the case with Archuleta County, as it staggered to the brink of financial disaster, led there by officials who responded to each and every “need,” an administration that poorly monitored spending and budget.
Such demands are a constant element in government. The urge to coddle supporters, the desire to ride a wave of warm popular support can overwhelm some elected officials and, without a guard at the gate, those officials lose touch with reality — realities such as depleted fund balances, unwarranted fund transfers, CDs being cashed.
These are but a few of the things that took place as Archuleta County slid close to the financial abyss less than a decade ago.
With the sudden departure of its county administrator, the BoCC found itself in need of someone to fill the job in early 2008. They hired the right person.
Greg Schulte appeared on the scene and, with the aid of competent financial officers — Don Warn and Diane Sorenson — he helped move the county back to a point where it now stands on firm ground.
Schulte was initially hired as interim administrator, picked from a field of four candidates. He had previous experience as a manager in the Sacramento, Calif., development services department and, as a resident of Durango, had served on our neighbor’s financial advisory board.
He was soon hired on a permanent basis and has been a steadying influence ever since. Among other things, he facilitated investigation of problems with fund balances and transfers, and put a positive hand on the helm of a demoralized organization in which, the year before, 38 employees lost jobs, $1.7 million in road projects were postponed and deep cuts were made to departments, programs and services.
The situation turned around, and Schulte is to be thanked for his important part in the process.
His influence, and that of the administration, in dealing with blowback from the global financial crisis has been positive. The county has responded to the reduction in tax revenues that followed devaluation of properties, and continues to be conservative today, with further reductions possible.
Greg Schulte has been a great asset. He forged a bond with this place and its residents and he leaves only to accept a prized position in another place he also loves — San Luis Obispo, Calif. He attended school there; he and his wife lived there at one time and have dreamed of returning. He will take a place in a large and well-funded county government with, no doubt, prospects for advancement as his talents become obvious. The Schultes will retain their residence here and will return — on vacation and, perhaps, as part-time residents in the future.
If you see Greg, thank him for what he has done for the community. Members of the BoCC in office since 2008 should thank him as well; they’ve benefited greatly due to his influence.