Regional news: Housing cost is sticking point for Basalt town manager candidate
The Aspen Times
MEDIATION WITH SCANLON
While the Basalt Town Council tries to seal a deal with a new town manager, it’s still attempting to reach a severance agreement with its old town manager.
Former manager Mike Scanlon terminated his contract and left the town government abruptly in August after relations soured between him and the majority of the board. Scanlon claimed the town violated terms of his contract by talking about his performance in public, among other things. He filed a notice of claim in December contending the town owed him for lost wages and benefits, and attorney’s fees and costs in an amount that “may exceed $500,000.”
The town council hasn’t been willing to pay that amount. No settlement has been reached but no lawsuit has been filed yet, according to Councilman Bernie Grauer.
“We’re going to a mediation process with him in May,” Grauer said Monday.
A retired judge in Denver will listen to the two sides positions and point out what he believes to be the merits and shortcomings. It’s a nonbinding process that either party can terminate, Grauer said.
The goal is to reach a settlement and avoid litigation, he said.
BASALT — The Basalt Town Council wants Ryan Mahoney as its next manager. Mahoney wants to be in Basalt. The challenge is the high cost of living in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Mahoney and the town have been exchanging proposals for terms in a contract since Friday. The council met in executive sessions, closed to the public, on Friday and again Monday night.
While waiting for a phone call after the council’s meeting Monday evening, Mahoney said he hoped an agreement could be worked out this week. He said the town gave him a proposal, then he offered a counter-proposal and was waiting to hear back.
“I would say housing is something that’s at the forefront of our negotiations,” said Mahoney, 41, development services director at the town of Marana, Arizona.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt was confidant Monday that the housing issue can be resolved.
“I’m sure we will come to terms with Ryan,” she said.
The town hired a headhunting firm to lead the search for a town manager. There were 58 applicants. The field was narrowed to two finalists April 21, but the other finalist dropped out April 25.
Mahoney was the unanimous top candidate of a citizens’ committee, town staff committee and the town council, according to Councilman Bernie Grauer.
“We got the man we all agreed on,” Grauer said. “We would clearly like him to be the manager.”
The pay range was advertised as between $124,000 and $170,000 along with full benefits. It hasn’t been disclosed if a housing allowance was part of the offer. All terms of a contract will be public once a deal is struck, Grauer noted.
Grauer said Basalt is facing the same challenge that every government and many businesses in the Roaring Fork Valley experience — providing a way for a top executive prospect to find affordable housing.
The town possesses a townhouse, but Mahoney’s family would be “cramped” in it, Grauer said. Mahoney said he and his wife have two young sons.
Former Town Manager Mike Scanlon had a housing allowance. He lived in Basalt but regularly commuted back to his family’s primary home in the Kansas City area during his tenure.
Grauer said the council members are “racking our brains” to come up with a solution on the housing issue. They were expected to reach a negotiating position Monday night and contact Mahoney.
As development services director at Marana, Mahoney leads a 20-person team that includes the planning, building and development engineering branches, according to his resume. He joined the town of Marana as planning director in 2013 and was promoted last year, his resume showed.
Prior to his time in Arizona, Mahoney was town manager in Dolores, Colorado, from 2009 to 2013, and town administrator in Buena Vista in 2006 to 2008.
He said he was attracted to the Basalt post for personal and professional reasons. He and his wife would enjoy returning to the Colorado mountains with their children, he said.
The issues facing Basalt, especially the ones involving land use — his specialty — also intrigue him. Revitalizing downtown while helping the progression of a new commercial area at Willits are among issues he identified as ones that he would welcome working on.
Mahoney said he was aware of the political differences that have prevailed in Basalt for the past two years but doesn’t find them daunting. He said he believes there is much more common ground than opposition.
In terms of area, it’s the county’s smallest conservation deal ever. In terms of location, it’s one of the county’s rarest acquisitions.