Mark Collins ends extended stint as interim county manager
Initially expecting to serve for five to six months, Collins will end his 18-month tenure Friday.
When the only Routt County manager in history retired in March 2020, there were a few weeks where there wasn’t a county manager. The deputy county manager role was also vacant and has been since.
In a pinch, Commissioner Beth Melton stepped in to cover the duties of the top county job until a true interim could start.
“It felt like it was approximately 25 years,” Melton said about the role as “interim-interim” county manager. “It was the very beginning of the pandemic, and it was crazy.”
Through the vast statewide network of county and city managers, Mark Collins learned the position was open and applied, expecting it to last about six months.
Collins said the interview was right around St. Patrick’s Day last year, when the pandemic was just starting to ramp up and Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. had just ended the ski season early.
“Of course, we were aware that some things were happening out there in public health across the country, as well as in the state and in Routt County, but we didn’t know the magnitude of what was going to occur,” said Collins, who will end 18 months as interim Routt County manager Friday. “When I (started), we were in full scale pandemic mode.”
Collins joined the county during a tumultuous time, with commissioners having just issued their first local public health order, the county recorded its first COVID-related death, and county employees were working from home. Entering a tough situation, county employees say Collins was an excellent leader, helping guide the county when there was so much uncertainty.
“He was a breath of fresh air and really what the county needed,” said Robin Schepper, county public information officer who was hired just before Collins.
The first months of his job were almost all virtual. He worked out of a home office in Old Town Steamboat, only coming into the county manager’s office in the historic Routt County Courthouse when he knew there wouldn’t be many people around.
“The irony is I’m really a people person,” Collins said. “I’m very outgoing in my style, but I couldn’t make those contacts with everybody.”
One of the most important things Collins said the county did was start up the Routt County Public Health Department, which did not exist when he arrived, as then the department was shared between Routt and Moffat counties.
“I don’t think I’ve ever faced that kind of challenge before,” Collins said. “The cupboard was bare, and we literally had to build a brand new public health department.”
Collins said he shares much of the credit for creating the department with Roberta Smith, who was hired as the department’s new director.
When commissioners opted not to hire any of their finalists for county manager last year, Collins offered to stay on until they found one, extending what he thought would be a six-month job into one that lasted a year and a half.
But Kendra Alfieri, officer manager in the county commissioner’s office, didn’t understand why they needed to launch another search. She felt the county had found its new manager.
“I’m so sad. He has been so fantastic for us. He has innovative ideas, he is approachable, he is so easy to get along with,” Alfieri said. “He has been instrumental to us, especially during COVID to have someone who just has a positive attitude even when dealing with difficult situations.”
Collins was offered the full-time job as county manager unofficially, but it was never something he wanted. At 68, Collins came into the job never seeking another permanent position, instead wanting to move his family back to the Western Slope.
What will be most missed, county employees said, was Collins’ sense of humor. They say he only knows five words of every song, and he constantly sings short little jingles. He comes to the office with movie and sports trivia.
“He has a great sense of humor and is truly one of the most encouraging people I have been around in a very long time,” said Julie Kennedy, purchasing agent for the county. “He is a real professional, and I am going to miss him a lot.”
On Monday, Collins will start a new role working with an executive search firm that seeks out people like him to fill the kind of roles he has worked for years. Still, Collins has contracted what some say is the Yampa Valley Curse. He bought a house near Stagecoach and will be seen riding his bike around the valley for the foreseeable future.
Commissioners joked at meetings this week that Collins was unable to end the pandemic, and there is a lot for new County Manager Jay Harrington to do when he starts Monday. And Collins has offered to help him with the transition if needed.
“He sets you up for success, which is huge. He sets everyone up for success, and he makes it easy and fun,” said Jennifer Parent, administrative assistant in the commissioner’s office. “We will miss him. Jay has got big shoes to fill.”
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.