Oak Creek narrows search — again — for clerk, administrator to 3 finalists
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Three new finalists have emerged in Oak Creek’s second search for a town clerk and administrator.
They each come from different states outside Colorado but share expertise in municipal work, according to Oak Creek Treasurer Sandy Jacobs, who has been involved in the interview process.
“We didn’t want to train someone from scratch,” Jacobs said.
The finalists include John Ardaugh, an attorney from Illinois; Chris Johnson, an arborist from Iowa; and Russ Powers, a city administrator, clerk and treasurer from Washington.
For years, Illinois attorney John Ardaugh has pined to call Colorado home.
“It’s my favorite state,” he said. “If you want to be outdoors, it’s the place to be.”
While he has worked in law for the majority of his career, much of his work has focused on municipal operations. For example, he worked on a legal case to procure water from Lake Michigan for his hometown of Manhattan, Illinois. He also helped the town raise revenue from nearby natural gas plants, which continues to help the local economy.
If selected for the clerk and administrator position in Oak Creek, Ardaugh said he wants to support the mom-and-pop shops in the downtown area.
“There’s nothing wrong with big businesses like Walmart, but I do not like ‘strip mall city,’” he said.
Ardaugh also would collaborate with the Steamboat Springs Chamber to bring more tourism to Oak Creek. In particular, he discussed the goal of attracting some of Steamboat’s winter guests to Oak Creek during their stay.
For decades, Chris Johnson has managed forests, but now he is ready to take those skills to local government.
The Iowa arborist has been featured in multiple newspaper articles from his hometown of Davenport along the Mississippi River. As forestry manager for the city, Johnson battled epidemics of tree-killing pests and established a program to plant as many as 700 trees in city limits.
Johnson left his position in 2018 and has since been working in the garden department of a Davenport Lowe’s. Recently, he has yearned to move to a mountain town like Oak Creek. He grew up in South Dakota and made frequent trips to the Black Hills, of Mount Rushmore fame.
“I’ve just been wanting to get back in the mountains. That’s where my heart is,” Johnson said.
Working in the public forestry sector, Johnson has experience writing grants and developing municipal budgets, which he said would prove useful for Oak Creek’s clerk and administrator position. He also got his masters in public administration in 2015.
Johnson did not go into details of any initiatives he would pursue if he got the job, but said he wants to prioritize sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.
“Before I start tackling anything, I want to talk with the people in town to see what their needs are,” Johnson said.
Russ Powers may not be a Colorado native, but he is no stranger to small-town living. He currently works as the city administrator, clerk and treasurer for Electric City, a town of about 1,000, just four miles from the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington. When asked why he applied for the job in Oak Creek, Powers said he and his wife want to be near family in the state.
“Everyone is getting a little bit older, and we need to get a little closer,” he said.
Powers appreciates that Oak Creek is similar in size to his Washington hometown and that the job will be almost identical to his current one. If selected, he said he wants to address the town’s economic development and affordable housing needs.
Reopening the search
The search for candidates comes after Mary Alice Page-Allen, the town’s previous, longtime clerk and administrator, left her position in October to become Hayden’s planning and economic development director. The town’s first attempt to hire her replacement failed after its initial top picks declined to take the job, according to Oak Creek Mayor Nikki Knoebel.
This time around, Jacobs said town officials involved in the interview process have probed more deeply into why candidates want to live in a more remote, mountain community like Oak Creek. The aim is to find someone who is a good fit for small-town living. They also are looking for ways to help the future clerk and administrator with housing, which can be difficult for families to afford in the area. At least one of the previous candidates declined to take the job because he said it was too expensive to live there, according to Knoebel.
Oak Creek officials plan to conduct final interviews with the three candidates on Dec. 9, according to Jacobs. They hope to present their top pick during the Dec. 12 Oak Creek Town Board meeting, the last of the year, to arrive at a final decision. If all goes according to plan, the new hire would start as early as January, according to Jacobs.
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