Community panel announces top choice for city manager | SteamboatToday.com

Community panel announces top choice for city manager

Interview committee tells City Council interim city manager is best fit for job

— The panel of community members who spent all day Friday interviewing the four city manager finalists wants the city of Steamboat Springs to stick with the man who has been leading the government on an interim basis.

The panel praised Interim City Manager Gary Suiter as an "incredibly transparent, forthcoming and confident" leader who can hit the ground running.

"That’s huge for us," panel spokeswoman Sara Craig-Scheckman said of Suiter’s seven months of experience at Steamboat City Hall. "He is our top choice."

Council President Walter Magill agreed with the eight-member panel’s unanimous recommendation and said Suiter has been good to work with since he was hired.

The rest of the City Council did not make a decision on who to hire, and it did not identify its top choice Friday, because it wants to take the weekend to digest the interviews and think the decision over.

But it was clear by the end of Friday’s interviews that Suiter goes into the weekend as the early favorite.

Recommended Stories For You

The city’s management team, which interviewed the finalists, also said Suiter was one of its top two picks for the job.

Finalist Michael Lamar, the county manager of Mason County, Georgia, appears to be the other candidate on the shortlist.

He was the community panel’s number-two pick and the other top choice of the management team, which did not specify a number 1 or number 2 choice.

It will ultimately be up to the council to make the hire next week.

The community panel said Lamar had positive attributes similar to Suiter’s, but it felt the Georgian’s lack of experience in mountain resort communities would be a concern.

The management team praised Lamar for his concrete ideas on how to improve community trust, including his existing practice in Georgia of holding open office hours.

Suiter, a management consultant who has spent many years managing cities in Colorado, appeared to be the most comfortable with the council during his 75-minute interview.

Like the other candidates, he was asked several questions about how he has overcome professional challenges and criticisms.

The candidates were also asked what intimidated them and what their first months on the job would look like.

Suiter described how he had learned many things and become stronger after being fired from some of his previous manager jobs, including a challenging tenure in Snowmass Village.

Despite being fired from Snowmass, Suiter was invited back to serve on an interim basis.

As he described the challenges he has faced, he appeared humble and talked about how his experiences had ultimately benefited him.

He told the council he was ready to end his management consulting business and commit to one town and one community.

He added he wants to find a way to have City Hall reopen on Friday mornings.

Asked by the council what he thought Steamboat’s biggest problem is, Suiter said it is the city’s overwhelming reliance on a single primary revenue source and its need for a financial sustainability plan.

But he added the city’s future looks bright, and he wants to help the council achieve its long list of goals, which include executing a multi-million dollar downtown improvement plan and adopting a long-term vision for Howelsen Hill.

"It’s an iconic facility in need of investment," Suiter said.

Suiter has more than 30 years of experience in city and county management.

He stepped into the manager’s office here at an especially tumultuous time.

The city’s police chief, deputy police chief and city manager had all departed as a result of an internal police investigation that concluded a hostile work environment had existed at the department for many years.

Suiter’s first major task was to hire a new police chief.

The council which hired him at the time said he was the right man to help right the ship.

He did not, however, go through the interview process without hearing some criticism from a council member about his tenure here so far.

Councilwoman Heather Sloop said she was "baffled" how a recent issue over construction easements at Central Park Plaza was able to hold up the construction project for two weeks.

She said she wants a manager who "is ahead of the game."

The issue led to an immediate change in city policy and a commitment that no projects will go out to bid until the necessary easements have been secured.

The previous policy was longstanding and inherited by the city’s current staff, Suiter recently told the council.

Day of marathon interviews

The council, the management team and the community panel also interviewed finalists George Korthauer and Steven Norwood.

Norwood has managed several cities in Texas, and Korthauer enjoyed a 25-year tenure as a city manager in Petoskey, Michigan.

Korthauer said the five- to seven-hour city council meetings here in Steamboat would be a departure from the ones he attended in Michigan.

He said the longest meetings there lasted two hours, and the mayor resolved to have them done in 20 minutes.

Korthauer also touted his ability to work with multiple council members and implement a major renovation project in the downtown corridor of Petoskey.

Norwood touted his economic development skills and committed to being in Steamboat for at least five years.

In addition to Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan and Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks, the community panel included two at-large citizens, a banker, a non-profit leader, a downtown business owner and a lodging leader.

Building trust

During the community panel interviews, the issue of gaining the trust of the community was discussed.

“We continue to have setbacks with conflicts of interest,” Suiter said. “It continues to pop up in the paper. That does not help.”

Suiter was referencing perceived conflicts of interest related to council members and their decisions to vote on issues regardless.

Norwood expressed some concern when he learned that rebuilding community trust was one of the city council’s goals.

“I hadn’t seen that before,” Norwood said. “That concerns me, because I don’t usually see that in cities.”

Norwood also shared information with the community panel related to his having been fired from his most recent job as chief administrator of El Paso County, Texas, by the county commissioners.

“2015 and last part of 2014 was probably the most challenging in my life,” Norwood said.

He said he was dealing with some major family issues that have since been resolved.

He also called the El Paso County government the “most backward county government form I’ve seen anywhere.”

“It wasn’t a match made in heaven,” Norwood said.

The council is expected to choose its top candidate on Tuesday night.

— Reporter Matt Stensland contributed to this story

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10