Vail Daily editorial: A job well done

the Vail Daily Editorial Board

We have mixed feelings about last week’s news that Keith Montag, Eagle County manager, will leave that job effective Nov. 1.

We’re happy for Montag. Those of us here at the paper who know Montag view him as a decent, friendly guy, one who provides honest responses to questions that aren’t always easy ask, much less answer. We appreciate Montag’s candor in those matters.

Those of us who have known Montag since his days in the county’s planning department are also just a shade envious. Montag is in his early 60s, not much older than the old guys here. He isn’t retiring, but he has the luxury of taking his time to find his next position. It would be nice to look for something useful to do without the wolf called necessity baying just outside the kitchen window.

And, in the world of government management, it’s unusual that a top administrator gets to leave on his or her own terms. Most are shown the door, rather than allowed to walk through it at their leisure.

With all that said, we’re a bit leery about the county’s future. Given the number of people who live in unincorporated Eagle County, the county government plays a big role in our civic life. We’re going to have one, and maybe two, new county commissioners elected this year. Giving the new members the chance to select a new top administrator is almost certainly a good idea. The elected officials make policy, and it’s the administrator’s job to carry it out.

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But 24 years worth of institutional memory will walk out the door when Montag leaves. That experience will be missed. He’s seen everything from rampaging growth to crippling recession, and he was a steady hand on the tiller when the county had to make serious cuts from an organization that was probably a bit bloated from the boom years of the previous decade. You can’t painlessly cut $50 million and more than 75 full-time positions over five years, but deputies still respond to 911 calls and the more mundane day-to-day work is still being accomplished. That’s a credit to the entire organization.

Montag has said he’ll help finish the 2015 budget and participate in the search for his replacement. That’s a good thing, even with individual departments run by competent professionals.

Life goes on, and no one is indispensable. But make no mistake, Eagle County’s government will miss Montag, even as the organization continues to get its work done.

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