Community reacts to Eagle manager finalists
EAGLE — In this digital age, the Eagle Town Board is getting lots of help vetting the two finalists for the town manager job.
After Tuesday night’s announcement of the finalists’ names, a corps of local residents began to Google “John Schneiger” and “Clark Gundlach.” What they found were news stories detailing how financial hardships at a Florida city prompted one of the candidates to leave his city manager job and information that the other candidate has no municipal government experience and has lived in Colorado for less than three years.
When the board made its finalist announcement this week, its written statement said the finalists “have skill sets and career experiences that make them uniquely qualified to be Eagle’s town manager.” With the announcement, the town board started the countdown for a 14-day period that must expire before a formal offer and contract can be extended to one of the finalists. However, it will likely be a short contract if the current board offers the job to Gundlach or Schneiger.
While the current Town Board can hire a new manager for a start date prior to April 25, that person will have to be named to the job again in less than a month. Five of the seven seats on the Town Board are up for election on April 5 and one of the first tasks the newly elected Town Board will tackle is to vote on whether or not to approve the new town manager’s contract.
“We feel that both Mr. Schneiger and Mr. Gundlach would bring their unique experience and enthusiasm to the job, are willing and able to assess the town’s needs and to then carry on with the management of our town government in a fashion that will help us get the best from our staff, and help the board pursue the goals and policies of the town,” said Eagle Mayor Pro Tem Anne McKibbin.
McKibbin noted the selection committee included four trustees, three staff members and a representative of our business community and said the effort resulted in a robust final selection process, including two days of interviews with six of the top candidates.
“The assistance of Chris Moffet and Angelo Fernandez, of Moffet Consulting, was and is invaluable, bringing a level of professionalism and independence to the entire search process that we feel has resulted in a better process and enabled us to better reach our choice of two finalists,” McKibbin said. “Finally, our inclusion of the Town Board candidates in the latter stages of the process we feel will help them in their decision on the town manager position, once the new board is seated.”
But members of the community disagree with the timing and question the suitability of the finalists.
“It remains a mystery why the current board is relentlessly pushing to exert its own will in the hiring of a new town manager, just weeks before a new board is seated,” said Eagle resident Joy Harrison. “The question remains, why not let the new board conduct the hiring anew, unburdened by questions of process and judgment?”
Schneiger has a bachelor’s in political science and a master’s in urban and regional planning from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and a Master of Business Administration in management from Colorado State University in Fort Collins. He has about 23 years of government experience and he was the Fruita city manager from 1992 to 2000 and the Montrose city manager from 2000 to 2005.
But the issues that have grabbed the attention of the Google corps relate to his work history since that time. He has held a series of jobs in Florida and Colorado and a high profile departure from his position as city manager in New Port Richey, Florida.
According to a story published on Oct. 2, 2012, in the Tampa Tribune, after a monthlong period when Schneiger was “on leave or vacation,” he told the mayor he wanted to leave his position in the financially troubled city. New Port Richey Mayor Bob Consalvo is quoted saying Schneiger had no desire to return to his job. “He feels he has lost the support of a majority of the council,” said Consalvo.
“New Port Richey was a tremendous challenge from a financial perspective,” said Schneiger in a written statement Thursday. “Upon starting the position and analyzing the finances, the situation turned out to be much worse than anticipated. It appeared that without proactive management and major cutbacks to the budget that there was a likelihood of the state would take over the administration of the city in approximately two years. The cutbacks, including layoffs, was my responsibility.”
Schneiger said the unpopularity of these actions became a political issue and he found himself in a situation where a majority of the city council no longer supported his leadership. He added in retrospect, he wishes he had given notice before leaving the job.
Grand Junction lawsuit
Additionally, a Google search on Schneiger revealed he has filed a federal lawsuit against the Grand Junction Downtown Development Authority. He started work with the group in October 2015 and was terminated in November 2015. His lawsuit alleges that he was terminated “because of his repeated objections to the ‘misappropriation and misallocation of public’ funds by the Downtown Development Association board of directors.” The City of Grand Junction has not yet filed its response to the lawsuit.
“John Schneiger has a long and well-researched history in municipal management, including tenures as the manager with the town of Fruita and the city of Montrose. It includes time with three communities in Florida where he had relocated due to family needs,” said McKibbin. “It also includes a short service to the Grand Junction Downtown Development Authority, which culminated in his termination. Mr. Schneiger has subsequently filed a lawsuit against the city of Grand Junction, and its downtown development association. In our review of this particular part of his work history, it became apparent that he had been hired into an organization with serious internal problems, and, allegedly, outright violations of their governing documents, how they managed and distributed their funds and how they conducted the public’s business.”
McKibbin characterized Schneiger’s lawsuit as “a litany of alleged transgressions on the part of the Downtown Development Association and of Mr. Schneiger’s attempts to bring attention to these issues, for which he was eventually fired.” When contacted about the issue, Schneiger declined comment on the advice of his attorney.
She said the lawsuit information, in combination with a number of reference checks and review of other work history, along with his forthrightness during interviews, led the selection committee to conclude that “Schneiger’s sense of ethics and of proper conduct of municipal business is above reproach, and would be of benefit to our town government.”
“The town of Eagle is growing, city finances are improving and my sense is things are generally on the upswing,” said Schneiger. “There is obviously some healing that needs to take place. At the same time, I believe I can add significant value to Eagle based on my background and experience.”
Gundlach brings a very different resume to the Eagle town manager position — one that does not include any municipal or government experience but does reflect a long career in the winter sports industry.
From 2003-’06, Gundlach was the vice president in sales for Burton Corp. Then from 2006-’12 he was senior vice president/general manager for all brands global for Burton. He was based in Burlington, Vermont.
From 2012-’14, he worked as senior vice president/general manager for Quiksilver Inc. in Huntington Beach, California. He moved to Eagle in 2014 and launched the Gundlach Group LLC in 2015.
The Gundlach Group is described as a consulting firm “providing leadership, consult, brand development, and business guidance services to the action, winter sports, and outdoor industries.”
In his application letter, Gundlach stated, “Eagle is entering a period of exciting change and is well positioned to be the greatest home town in Colorado. I aspire to be a part of this exciting evolution.” He touted his extensive corporate executive leadership experience and management skills in his application letter.
“After years of a career with global objectives, I can now be focused locally,” Gundlach stated in his application letter.
“Clark Gundlach brings a very different work history and management history to the table,” said McKibbin. “His experience is entirely in the private sector.”
McKibbin noted that at the beginning of the town’s search process, the selection committee agreed that it was worth expanding the search to include candidates who were primarily or solely private sector managers.
“Mr. Gundlach’s management experience with several ski industry companies, and his familiarity with the outdoors industry generally, and with Eagle specifically, contributed to his selection as one of the finalists,” said McKibbin.
When contacted Thursday, Gundlach said his professional experience and his admiration for the Eagle community prompted him to apply for the town manager job.
“I have always felt Eagle is such a beautiful place, a gem really, but it needs polishing,” said Gundlach. “I think I can bring some competency and skills to the town. It would be a great new challenge for me and the opportunity to serve the community excites me.”
As for his lack of municipal experience, Gundlach said he would be surrounded by a staff that has the knowledge of how town government works while he would bring strong management skills to the organization.
As for the risk of taking a job offered by the current board and then having to win over the members of the new board to keep it, Gundlach admitted he was initially reluctant to apply because of that dynamic. However, the interview process won him over. He noted the interviews included both current board members and candidates along with staff members.
“I believe they all feel comfortable with the finalists,” he said.