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County announces plans to hire new administrator

Staff Writer

Archuleta County officials have announced plans to hire a county administrator.

Those plans are set to be formalized in a special meeting of the Board of County Commissioners today, Thursday, at 10 a.m.

The individual chosen for the position — Jesse Smith, of Montrose, Colo. — was previously offered the position, but declined it for personal reasons at the time.

Those reasons, however, have been alleviated, according to BoCC Chair Clifford Lucero, and the county intends to offer Smith a six-month contract.

If the job offer for Smith is approved by the BoCC today, Smith will begin April 15, and will be paid $52,000 plus full benefits for the six-month contract, according to Lucero and interim administrator Todd Starr.

The contract is also set to include the option for an extension, Lucero said.

The move came on the heels of a Monday morning meeting in which several Archuleta County elected officials called for the removal of Starr from the position of interim county administrator, but Lucero stated the two events were not connected.

“This has been in the works,” Lucero said Monday afternoon. “It kind of fell into place.”

Smith, though, said in a Wednesday interview that Lucero contacted him Monday suggesting a more limited tenure for the position.

Starr was appointed to serve as interim administrator in November, following the resignation of Greg Schulte, who left to take a position in California.

The request to remove Starr from the position came from several elected officials at Monday’s meeting, with those officials citing employee morale and work on the county budget as two of the reasons for the proposed removal.

Sheriff Pete Gonzalez began the discussion by stating that an interim administrator should not be responsible for instituting changes to the level Starr has — such as recommending budget cuts equal to $1.5 million for 2013 and 2014.

That, Gonzalez indicated, is playing into the county’s lack of ability to hire a new, permanent administrator, with several finalists withdrawing from consideration prior to being interviewed.

“It’s obvious no one wants to come here,” Gonzalez said.

Archuleta County completed two searches for a new administrator, but failed to hire anyone, offering the position to Smith following the first search. Smith declined the position due to a family health situation that has since changed, allowing him to accept a six-month contract.

Gonzalez suggested that an outside interim administrator be hired to, “prove it works,” in order for the county to more easily hire a permanent administrator.

“Step up to the plate here, pal,” Gonzalez said to commissioner Clifford Lucero.

In defending Starr’s work as interim administrator and the failed searches to hire a permanent administrator, commissioners Lucero and Steve Wadley (commissioner Michael Whiting was absent) noted that La Plata County, too, held multiple searches before finding a new administrator, and admitted that too much work had been delegated to Starr as interim administrator in addition to his existing job as county attorney.

Wadley also indicated that the board was considering hiring an outside interim administrator, and that the BoCC needed to reassess how it conducts business.

Later in the meeting, Wadley stated that those applying for the administrator position who research Archuleta County see that the job will be tough, with a contracting budget to contend with.

Despite the words from the commissioners, the elected officials continued to call for the cessation of Starr’s work as interim administrator.

“You need to take over now,” Assessor Natalie Woodruff told the board, while Gonzalez urged the board to make the decision that day.

“We need Todd doing what he’s doing,” Lucero said, adding that Starr was needed to help with ongoing projects, but recognized, “We know we need to make a move.”

Lucero again stated that he believed Starr was overwhelmed by the amount of work he faced.

Clerk and Recorder June Madrid then told the commissioners how the current disfunction at the county was affecting employee morale, calling Starr, “unprofessional” and stating that the commissioners did not care about the suggestions of the other elected officials.

“We’re not heard,” Madrid said, adding, “I don’t think you see the hurt you’re doing to us.”

With discussions centering more on the budget and the impending need to trim the budget to accommodate potentially declining property tax revenue and possible cuts due to the sequestration at the federal level, the elected officials asked the BoCC to include them in whatever budget cuts are made.

Treasurer Betty Diller stated that, if given the chance, the employees could help determine cuts that would help to balance the budget — a suggestion Lucero said was already at work in other departments that are providing alternate ways to balance their budgets.

Diller added that the county needed an open avenue of discussion concerning the budget, while Woodruff suggested bringing in carefully chosen community members to help with the budget.

Continuing the budget discussions, the elected officials requested access to the documents used by Starr in recommending his cuts.

“We’re willing to the part of the solution,” Diller said, suggesting that cuts throughout the county do not affect the commissioners’ workload on a day-to-day basis, but, instead, leave others with more work.

Woodruff also suggested that comparing Archuleta County to other Colorado counties for the purpose of finding ideas on how to run the county is difficult.

“We are unusual,” Woodruff stated.

Madrid then asked that the commissioners seek a better understanding of the work flow and work level at each department.

“Come in and see what we do,” Madrid said.

Further discussion at the meeting touched on how to alleviate budget woes in the future, and what services currently provided by the county are not required by state statute.

Monday, Lucero announced the county’s intent to hire Smith, and continued to support Starr’s work as interim administrator in a Tuesday discussion with SUN staff.

“I think Todd has done an outstanding job for the county,” Lucero said, noting that Starr had done an, “exemplary job” under the direction of the BoCC. “I really feel anyone put into that position from within the county would have received the same comments from the staff.”

Starr, who was not present at the elected officials’ meeting, but had heard of the allegations made at the meeting, declined to comment on the matter.

Smith recently retired from the position of Montrose County manager, but applied for the Archuleta County position, still desiring to work and having vacationed in the Pagosa Springs area.

But, Smith knows that serving as county administrator in Archuleta County will be no walk in the park.

“Every time I have changed jobs, it has been that the organization that I was heading up at that time was running really smooth and was in what I call a maintenance mode,” Smith said. “I get bored at that point.”

Smith indicated he has done his research, and asked several questions during the interview process.

“You’ve got some very serious issues you’ve got to deal with and you’ve got to deal with them quickly,” Smith said. “I’m a change agent and I’m a team-builder, so that’s what appeals to me.”

randi@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on April 4, 2013.