Stavney: Kudos from one-time Eagle manager on new hire by town board (column)
Compliments to the Board of Trustees at the town of Eagle for navigating at least three very good decisions in 2017. Praise is deserved as 2018 begins. It is no secret recent years were tumultuous for the town, even if unnecessary and self-inflicted. As one active in town leadership in various roles since 1997, I am compelled to speak to accelerate the healing.
1. First good decision: The board hired Tim Gagen to facilitate a robust town manager selection process that resulted in a strong pool of candidates.
Gagen, a retired manager from Breckenridge, is well known in municipal management. He conducted a professional process, broadcasting the right signals to candidates about the readiness of the town and clarity about what was sought. If that sounds common, it is not. Top-quality candidates will not risk uprooting their families and careers to a new community for a job with an election on the horizon in a place that has a recent history of inventing its own question marks.
Many town boards overstep roles and “get in their own way” during staff leadership transitions, undermining the process. Boards can be a human resources nightmare. This board avoided those minefields, which bodes well going forward, even with a pending April board election.
2. Secondly and most importantly, the board chose wisely in hiring Brandy Reitter to be the next town manager.
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As a colleague, I’m all in on Reitter. She’s a respected, energetic, experienced, midcareer manager and a worthy successor. I’m confident she will prove a good fit with so much to rebuild and repair. Those who have persevered inside and outside the organization will appreciate Reitter, who has the experience to connect with many nearby entities, the development community and with the citizenry each of which have hungered for stability again in Eagle, and clarity in a point person.
It is hard to quantify the opportunities squandered in recent years, the impacts of faded trust; yet local governance is a long game. Reitter arrives ready to engage, and I think she will inspire confidence and trust.
I’ve known Reitter as town manager in Buena Vista. She “gets” what Eagle is about — place, community balanced with economic development. Buena Vista embarked on significant modernizing changes during her tenure. When the Eagle Town Board identified a waterpark as the top priority in 2014, we went to Buena Vista and visited Reitter to see how it was done.
3. Lastly, the board in 2017 funded a process that resulted in a written strategic plan for town.
Given the outflow of institutional knowledge by exiting staff since Willy Powell left in May 2013, this was an invaluable continuity tool. By my math, six leaders retired or moved on since 2013, adding up to more than 150 years of experienced leadership. These are the staff that led the town through a transition from cow town (without a stoplight or roundabout) through all of the growth and public investment that makes it what it is now.
There is little in the 2017 strategic plan unfamiliar to exiting staff. Eagle portioned scarce resources for transformational projects for 20 years. A town with that kind of staff did not feel the “need” for such a written plan, but it was far past time for it to be written and adopted as a rudder to future boards, staff and citizens who will continue to diversify across the many varied networks that have developed in Eagle.
These choices should regain public trust in town. It raised mine to start 2018. Such confidence flowing from the public, through the board to staff leadership is needed to make real any continued ambitious plans. Boards do hard work. They deserve respect, as well as accountability, for that honor.
None of their decisions are more important than holding processes with integrity, finding the right manager to lead, being clear about expectations and supporting that manager. To start 2018, nearly five years after Willy’s departure when confidence in town leadership was at a peak, I’m sure a little praise would be welcomed.
Jon Stavney is the executive director of Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. He is also a past county commissioner, as well as having served as trustee, mayor and manager of the town of Eagle through his career. For more of his thoughts, visit his new blog launching this week at a-public-observer.com.