After 2 national searches, a pandemic and 18 months, Routt County has a new manager
Jay Harrington started as Routt County’s second-ever county manager Monday, stepping into the top civilian job that hasn’t been filled permanently since before the pandemic.
Harrington ended his job as the city manager of Carbondale on Sept. 10, before moving to Steamboat Springs last week. By noon Monday, Harrington had met with human resources, sampled a commissioners meeting and turned his computer on for the first time.
“I’m really just learning the organization at this point,” Harrington said. “The first couple weeks, jumping in the budget stuff is going to be a great opportunity to see every department in action.”
Harrington comes into the job after the county had an interim manager for 18 months, which kept some of the county’s priorities on hold as commissioners worked through two different search processes that eventually found Harrington.
It is also a transitional period for the county as it builds out of the pandemic and works to address issues like a lack of affordable housing and child care highlighted during the pandemic, and many business owners now putting up help wanted signs in their windows.
“It does feel like there has been things on hold,” Commissioner Beth Melton said. “And it does have to do with that kind of strategic planning and implementation and moving forward with new initiatives.”
Melton said there have been various forms of strategic planning that have been in the works for years that they will be looking to pick back up now. For example, commissioners started working to outline their own strategic goals when they learned then County Manager Tom Sullivan was retiring early in 2020, but that work was ultimately shelved when the pandemic hit. It now needs to be updated.
“For me, it’s a top priority item, because I think, as an organization, it’s really important for us to be working and thinking strategically,” Melton said. “We need the manager really to do the work of getting all of the personnel, all the people in the organization kind of moving in the same direction toward those goals.”
One immediate task Harrington faces involves filling some of the open positions in the county, including a public works director, public information officer and maintenance staff. Commissioner Tim Redmond said hiring and managing personnel is the most important part of Harrington’s job.
“We’ve hired somebody with a lot of municipal and county experience, and he’s going to come in, and I expect him to take complete control,” Redmond said. “My part of it is going to be talking to him and understanding his management style and how he would like us to work with him.”
Redmond said having Harrington on board will give residents the ability to get to know him and build a relationship with someone whose intention is to be around for a while, like they were able to do with Sullivan over his 20-year career.
“The one thing that (residents) are going to have is a consistent individual,” Redmond said.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan said the county manager typically would attend a variety of community organization meetings, but it made less sense for someone in the role temporarily to participate.
Just minutes after the job technically started, Corrigan said he asked Harrington to participate in the Yampa Valley Housing Authority’s steering committee for the Brown Ranch development, and he anticipates more requests from organizations will come.
“I think that list of community organizations that he’ll be asked to interact with will grow pretty quickly,” Corrigan said. “We’ve got the permanent (county manager) now; I’m sure that we’ll have requests.”
The county will start creating its 2022 budget in earnest Tuesday as departments present their spending requests to commissioners for the upcoming budget year, which Harrington said will be a good introduction to the inner workings of the various departments he now supervises.
Corrigan said his focus for Harrington right now is to ensure he has a good handle on managing the staff before they start to throw any of the county’s strategic endeavors at him. Coming from a mountain community, Harrington said he has experience dealing with some of the local issues.
In Carbondale, Harrington said inclusionary zoning policies were used to creating affordable housing units over time, but it wasn’t enough to meet the need. The Steamboat Springs community having land identified for housing is an opportunity Harrington said they didn’t have in Carbondale and something that excites him for the future.
In an interview last week, outgoing interim County Manager Mark Collins said he believes Harrington is joining the county at a time when it is facing economic and cultural changes, and it will be important to understand those changes to be able to adapt to them.
“I think that (Routt County) will have to be malleable and flexible to adapt to those changes in terms of staffing, dedicated resources, funding support,” Collins said. “We’re changing community dynamics. … It’s your ability to be adaptable to what’s going to happen in your community going forward and be able to be responsive.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Routt County voters will have the option to elect new school board members, city and town council members and choose whether or not to support three state ballot initiatives in the Nov. 2 election.