After one year on the job, city manager finds groove

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With one year under his belt, Steamboat Springs City Manager Alan Lanning looks forward to what he will accomplish in the years to come. His co-workers and employees say Lanning is the right man to lead Steamboat during this period of growth and change.

— Alan Lanning is done saying "I'm the new guy."

Looking ahead to his second year as Steamboat Springs' city manager, Lanning said Thursday that he plans to take an increasingly active role in upcoming city issues and discussions. That will be a change from his first year on the job, in which Lanning spent much of his time climbing the steep learning curve created by Steamboat's widespread development, contentious city issues, and an ideologically diverse Steamboat Springs City Council. Lanning, whose one-year evaluation was Tuesday, received positive reviews this week from City Council and city staff.

"He had kind of a long transition, but he's feeling much more comfortable, and so are we," City Council President Susan Dellinger said. "We're very pleased."

Dellinger, City Clerk Julie Jordan and Planning Director Tom Leeson all placed the creation of a watershed protection ordinance atop Lanning's list of accomplishments in the past year. Intended to protect city water sources in rural areas outside of city limits, the initial ordinance drew heated opposition last winter from ranchers and rural landowners who called its regulations excessive, unnecessary and harmful to agriculture.

After working with a citizens committee and Boulder water attorney Glenn Porzak, Lanning presented the City Council with a revised ordinance that was so amenable to all parties involved that it passed final approval unanimously last month without a single public comment.

Approval of the ordinance was a watershed moment for Lanning.

"When you arrive, ownership of the projects and issues is someone else's," Lanning said Thursday, reflecting on starting a new job in city administration. "At some point, you transition over to where the ownership is your own. That's where you build confidence and start to assert yourself more."

Soft-spoken leader

Leeson said he respected Lanning's initial "stand back and watch" approach to managing Steamboat.

"It shows me that he has the long-term perspective in mind. He's not too quick to make changes," Leeson said. "But he's recently started to make some decisions and take some actions that are really going to have an impact."

In addition to the watershed issue, Leeson and Dellinger praised Lanning's work on the city's affordable housing efforts, exploration of a new recreation center, and revisions to controversial vacation home rental policies.

Jordan said Lanning's impact has been felt not only on long-term issues, but also in daily interactions around City Hall on 10th Street.

"I have felt renewed enthusiasm by working with Alan," Jordan said. "It's great to talk to him every day. He's a genuine person. He is a great leader, a great mentor, and has been very supportive of my office. I have been very pleasantly surprised with how quick and thoroughly he thinks things through."

Jordan said her comments are not a reflection on Paul Hughes, who served as Steamboat's city manager from April 1998 to December 2005. Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord served in an interim capacity until Lanning began work in late June 2006.

"I think there have been a lot of challenges this past year, and Alan has faced everyone of them proactively : with the community's best interests at heart," Jordan said of Lanning. "He might come across as soft-spoken, but I think he listens and evaluates before he speaks. I think that's why people might think he's not as dynamic as previous city managers we've had."

The "d" word

Lanning had a simple description for what his job will entail in the next 12 months.

"Development, development and development," he said, citing potentially massive renovations to Ski Time Square; the city's multi-year, $22 million redevelopment at the base of Steamboat Ski Area; and the Steamboat West project slated for as many as 700 acres west of downtown.

"We've been interacting with both of them from an informal standpoint," Leeson said of the private developers who, in recent months, purchased Ski Time Square and the Steamboat West site.

"I would expect that we would get something from both of them before the end of the summer, in terms of some form of preliminary application or submittal," Leeson said. "Both projects will move forward pretty quickly."

Lanning, 49, said he plans to stick around long enough to see those projects, and many others, come to fruition.

"We love it here," he said about how his wife and four children are enjoying Steamboat.

Lanning has previously served as city manager in Brookings, S.D.; as town manager in Minturn, near Vail; and as an administrative assistant and planning director for the Moffat County Board of Commissioners.

He praised the staff he sees every day.

"In my travels, across the board, this is one of the finest groups of people I've worked with," Lanning said. "There are some really great people here."

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