Vail Town Manager Zemler resigns post
December 2, 2016
VAIL — When successful people move out of a job, it's often said they leave big shoes to fill. Stan Zemler's shoes are roughly the size of canoes.
Zemler, Vail's town manager since 2003, Wednesday announced that he's resigning, effective March 31. He'll participate in the search for a new manager, but current Vail Mayor Pro Tem Jenn Bruno said that job "may be the toughest decision this council has to make."
This council will be hard-pressed to find a manager who matches Zemler's tenure. He's been in the job longer than any of his predecessors.
Ludwig Kurz was Vail's mayor when the council hired Zemler to replace former manager Bob McLaurin. That search whittled down a group of 150 applicants down to just a final few.
During the interview process, Kurz said he and Rod Slifer, then the town's Mayor Pro Tem, were immediately impressed by Zemler, the CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce at the time.
"We'd interviewed a number of people, and in my mind, and (Slifer's), Stan was head and shoulders above the others," Kurz said. "It occurred to me pretty quickly that there was a very sharp intellect there. He had the demeanor and sophistication that I felt made him a strong candidate at the time."
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Big changes in Vail
Zemler came to the town as it was deciding how — or whether — to build a conference center that the town had passed a lodging tax to build — that effort was ultimately abandoned. The town was also in the first stages of what became known as "Vail's Renaissance," several years of both public and private investment to upgrade the town's facilities. Between new hotels and upgraded streets, Vail's resort areas look much different than they did in 2003.
"Among the other good decisions we made at the time, (Zemler's hiring) was the best decision we made."
The decision wasn't easy, and, Kurz said, other council members had different opinions about the right candidate for the job.
State Sen. Kerry Donovan was a teenager when Zemler was hired. Donovan's mother, Diana, was a council member at the time. She remembers Zemler coming to Donovan home shortly after he was hired.
Donovan served a four-year term on the Vail Town Council, and remembers Zemler helping her and other new council members learn the job.
Donovan noted that Vail has a town government that depends on a strong manager to handle day-to-day operations. But, she said, Zemler has a strong sense of when to "lead from behind" when council members need to be out front on various issues.
Bruno is now in the third year of her first term. She called Zemler an "incredible mentor" in helping her learn the job.
"He finds a way to get people around him to believe in themselves," Bruno said. "He's always been willing to share his experience and wisdom to help us reach our goals… We've been so lucky to have him."
Zemler's work has been both inside and outside the town boundaries.
Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll, now the longest-tenured town executive in the valley, said he's been impressed working with Zemler, and seeing the work he's done.
"Any manager that went through that billion-dollar renovation and lived to tell about it … he's done a great job."
Longtime Vail resident — and former Mayor — Bob Armour never worked with Zemler as a council member. But he has seen Zemler's work up close.
"I have the utmost respect for him and the job he's done … he's really riven his heart and soul to the community," Armour said.
Like other people in the community, Armour had wondered when Zemler might leave.
"That's a stressful job he's had," Armour said.
Kurz said he'd wondered for a while how long Zemler, now 67, would continue in the job.
"My hope was that he'd always stay on," Kurz said. "But things change."
'This isn't about me'
In a release, Zemler said "There's no perfect time to do this." But he added, the town is in a strong financial position now, has a strong organization in town government and there's great community support.
"More importantly, this isn't about me," Zemler added. "We've succeeded because of the strength of the community as a whole."
In the release announcing Zemler's resignation, Vail Mayor Dave Chapin also praised the community and the town's organization.
"We have the most efficient and well-run organization in the mountains due to Stan's leadership," Chapin said.
With Zemler in his last months, council members are now facing the prospect of hiring his successor.
Bruno was still thinking about what to look for in the next manager. Donovan listed a number of qualities the next manager should have before settling on a simple statement:
"The next town manager has to love Vail — that's all you need to do," she said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.