There was no Eagle Ranch, Eby Creek Mesa or Terrace subdivisions. The idea of a stoplight in town was absurd, and roundabouts… well, what’s a roundabout? Nearly 20 years later, a lot has changed, in Eagle and the world, but Powell remains Eagle’s Town Manager.
Being in any job for nearly 20 years is an accomplishment and in the world of government it’s almost unheard of. Sam Mamet, director of the Colorado Municipal League, estimated that town and city managers last, on average, three or four years in their jobs. The national average is five years.
When Powell was first hired, he and the town both wanted a change. The town had gone through a handful of managers over the past decade and the town board was looking for a local for the job, thinking that might bring some stability to the post. Powell, who came to Colorado in 1975 and moved to Eagle in 1979, was ready to give up his construction business in the face of a tough economic climate. Not long after he was hired, the town began planning a project to build sidewalks, curbs and gutters up Third Street from downtown to the then-new schools.
The project was completed, but not without argument. The plan raised some hackles among longtime residents, who questioned the project’s necessity and cost.
“We were trying to get business and growth to come in those days,” recalled Sonya Beasley, who worked for Powell as town secretary, then was one of his bosses as a town board member. “Then we had to figure out how to control it.”
The housing market caught fire in Eagle in the early to mid-1990s. With more residents came more businesses, most significantly City Market. The town’s fund balances grew, but so did the demands on those funds. The changing times are part of what Powell said has kept him interested and motivated.
After the boom, times have changed again. Town revenues are flat, growth has slowed, and the large development plans have stopped coming, at least for now. That presents a new set of challenges.
“I think we’re looking more at community services, at the interface between people in town and the town government,” said Eagle Town Board Member Paul Witt. “I think (Powell) will do a very good job at that, too.”
Beasley, who continues to work with Powell on Flight Days and other projects, said “He’s just wonderful to work with.”
Not everyone agrees, of course, and, like anyone who holds a job for a long time, Powell has his critics. Local businessman Jerry Butters has been a critic of town policy, and, by extension, Powell’s execution of it, for some time. Butters said the town board and Powell have been around too long.
“We need to get fresh blood, fresh viewpoints into town hall,” he said.
Ten years ago, Jeff Shroll had to wonder about his new job. Just before he started work as Gypsum’s new town manager in 1994, Shroll was invited to attend the town’s annual Christmas party. There, he met an employee who asked, “So, is your dad the new town manager?”
The confusion was understandable. Shroll was just 24 – and looked younger – when he took the Gypsum job. He already held a master’s degree, though, and had a few years of experience in public administration as an intern in Norwood, near Telluride, and as recreation director and special projects coordinator for Mount Crested Butte, an upscale enclave adjacent to the town of Crested Butte.
After hitchhiking from Mount Crested Butte to his first interview, he met with town officials at the old town hall on the corner of Eagle and First streets. There were only seven full-time employees at the time, and everyone worked out of the old building. Public Works Director Don Eaton, who was filling the town manager’s role on an interim basis, had a desk in a dark room on the way to the restroom. That was the closest thing to a private office in the old digs. Audiences at council meetings ended up sitting on desks.
People wondered about Shroll, too. Council member Gary Lebo, who has been one of Shroll’s bosses through most of the past decade, recalled that any number of people expressed their amazement, and frustration, that the town would hire such a youthful manager.
The new manager was tested almost from the start. The town at the time was struggling financially.
“The water fund paid all the bills for years,” said former Gypsum Town Council member Bob Mayne. At the time Shroll was hired, Mayne added, the town had to stretch the pay scale.
“I just didn’t think there’d be enough (money) to keep him here for more than a few years,” said Mayne, who added he’s happy he was wrong about that prediction.
Things got busy quickly soon after Shroll took the manager’s job. Annexation and development proposals started rolling in, and the Town Council, which for years had met just once a month in the winters, had to switch to holding sessions twice a month to keep up with the pile of applications. Lebo said having a young, energetic town manager was a real boon to the town.
“You have to remember this town had basically been asleep since the 1930s,” said Lebo. “We had no building regulations and no real zoning for commercial building. Jeff was our most valuable asset then. He had energy, fresh knowledge and he was able to use it.”
As the applications came in, the town also embarked on an aggressive annexation program in an effort to bring more people, goods and services to town. Most critical among those annexations was bringing the south side of the airport into town. The town now collects money from every car rented out of that facility, which is the biggest single source of sales tax revenue.
While rental cars pay a big part of the town’s bills these days, Shroll said just about the biggest thrill he’s had as town manager was the grand opening of Columbine Market.
The town had been without a grocery store for a long time before Howard Tuthill opened the store in 1997. The night of the grand opening, it seemed as if the whole town turned out, Shroll said.
“There was a guy there we’d really been wrangling with over something,” he recalled. “He told me, “I still think you’re an SOB, but you did all right here.'”