Colorado bill would allow Routt County to name sole finalist for new county manager
County has traditionally named multiple finalists, and commissioners see value in public disclosure
When Routt County was trying to hire a new county manager last summer, commissioners announced two finalists for the job and introduced them to county staff and the community.
Commissioner Beth Melton said she saw value in showcasing the candidates to the community in the interest of transparency and introducing them to their potential coworkers.
“As commissioners, the three of us, it is our role to hire this person, and we know what we are looking for,” Melton said. “But we only have a certain type of interaction with this person, and I think it is definitely helpful for other folks who are going to be working with him or her to have an opportunity to weigh in.”
The commissioners learned more about the candidates they had announced as finalists through what Commissioner Tim Corrigan described as a meet and greet, a tactic they use when hiring most leadership positions in the county. Ultimately, the county did not hire either finalist.
Public entities, like the county, are required by law to release names of finalists for high-level executive positions, like county manager, 14 days before a job offer is made. But there is uncertainty in the law, and some courts have said if an entity names less than three finalists, then everyone’s name and application who made it to the final round in hiring would be public information.
A bipartisan bill currently on Gov. Jared Polis’ desk seeks to clarify the current law, removing a requirement to disclose all applicants’ names and application materials that made it to the final stage but were not named a finalist.
This would allow the county to disclose just one finalist candidate in its ongoing search for a new county manager without divulging information about other candidates who were seriously considered.
The bill enjoyed broad support in both houses of the Colorado General Assembly, passing the House in early April, 50-13, and in the Senate last week, 28-7. One of the few who voted against the bill was Sen. Bob Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale who represents Routt County.
“I believe the search and fulfillment of public job vacancies should be transparent to the public,” Rankin said in an email when asked about his vote.
Groups like the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition agree with Rankin, saying that the public’s right to know about how these decisions are made outweigh the individual candidate’s privacy.
Proponents of the bill say it can be hard to find enough good candidates for an executive position because people are wary about being named a finalist, which could alert their current employer they are looking elsewhere. Melton said she has experienced this at times, and it is a legitimate concern.
“We certainly heard a bit about that when we were doing our search last year,” Melton said. “We want people to be able to apply for these positions without that concern.”
Still, Melton said she understands the transparency side of the issue, which also opens up the possibility that more information about a candidate could come to light because of this disclosure.
While she was not certain about the statutory obligations of this bill if it became law, Melton said she still thought the county would want to introduce these candidates to staff and other partners in the community, so they can collect their feedback before making a decision.
The county is no longer accepting applications for the county manager job and has had 28 people apply. Corrigan said he has not extensively reviewed individual applications at this point but has been encouraged by both the current job titles and location of many of the applicants.
“I consider this a superior group of applicants compared to our last failed effort,” Corrigan said.
More of the applicants this time around are from Colorado and other mountain states, Corrigan said, something that was lacking in the prior applicant pool. He hopes they can winnow down the list by the end of the month and be in a position to make a hire around the end of June.
Corrigan said he needed to learn more about the bill before making a definitive statement about what is in the county’s best interest, but he presumed they would want to release names of finalists as they have done in the past.
“My intuition leads me to believe that (releasing finalists’ names) has been a good process in the past and one I think I would like to follow,” Corrigan said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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