Derek Franz

Back to: News
February 20, 2013
Follow News

County public works director is departing

Eagle County Public Works Director Tom Johnson is leaving his post after almost seven years with the county.

Ken Whitehead, the county's director of solid waste and recycling, will assume Johnson's duties by March.

"This is a great job and I'm sorry to leave - this is purely a family decision," Johnson said. "I knew for a while this move was imperative. (Whitehead) didn't know it, but he was being groomed for this. There is no doubt in my mind he's the right guy for the job. I'm glad I got to work with him for a couple years."

Johnson's new job is with a county in southern Minnesota, where he is from originally.

"It just happens I'm going back," he said.

Johnson was Eagle County's first public works director and said there are too many highlights to remember them all. He said he helped Red Cliff update its wastewater treatment plant in 2010 and set up a new road-and-bridge facility in Basalt in 2008, among other things.

"It's gone so fast," he said. "Sometimes it seems like it was longer than seven years and other times less than that."

Whitehead and Eagle County Commissioners agreed that Johnson has been instrumental in the county's success.

"He really has done an excellent job as our public works director and he's done an equally fine job of grooming people to fill his big shoes," said Commissioner Sara Fisher. "One of the things we'll have reason to remember him for - for years to come - is the work that he and the facilities crew have done to improve the health and energy efficiency of every one of our Eagle County buildings. This was a huge job, but the results save us significantly in cost and reduced energy waste each year."

Whitehead said the county makes a point to foster mentorships within its ranks, such as a director grooming another county employee to fill his shoes, as Johnson did with Whitehead.

"Mentoring and succession is one of the things this county has been focused on for years now," Whitehead said. "That way, we're not left in the lurch when someone leaves."

Whitehead said he initially didn't know he was being prepped to take over public works but Johnson eventually gave him some notice.

"There were a couple times (Johnson) got me involved in other things outside the solid waste department," he said. "At the time I wondered why and now it makes sense."

Commissioner Jon Stavney said Johnson had to navigate a lot of transitions during his time with the county.

"Every transition has been smooth under his leadership and he hasn't taken credit for that," Stavney said. "He's one of the best-liked directors the county has ever had. He has a soft touch with people and also knows how to move things forward."

Whitehead agreed.

"(Johnson) is one of the best leaders I've ever worked for," he said. "The public works team has been refined into a very efficient and competent organization."

The next step for the department under Whitehead's direction is to become accredited by the American Public Works Association this year.

"(Johnson) got us to the two-yard line," Whitehead said. "Very few counties in the country are accredited by APWA. It will help us ensure our procedures and policies are well thought out and up to date."

"My hope and desire is to emulate (Johnson's) passion for people, integrity and pursuit of excellence," he added. "We'll miss him terribly."

Stories you may be interested in

The VailDaily Updated Feb 20, 2013 01:09PM Published Feb 20, 2013 01:08PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.