Routt County starts 2nd search for new county manager

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The search for the second-ever Routt County manager is starting up again, renewing an effort that failed to fill the role last summer.

When Tom Sullivan, the county’s first manager, announced his retirement in February 2020, the county had to scramble to find someone for what some consider the most important staff position in county government.

The county has hired a search firm to help facilitate the hiring process by creating a job description, reaching out to potential candidates and winnowing down the field to finalists for the job. The previous process ended with commissioners feeling like none of the finalists were a good fit for the job.

Since March 2020, Mark Collins has served as interim county manager after he was found using contacts with the International County Manager Association. Commissioner Tim Corrigan said hiring Collins allowed commissioners more time to carry out a thorough search process.

The county was lucky to get Collins, Corrigan said, especially at a time when COVID-19 was just starting to consume much of the county’s focus. But Collins made two things very clear when they started up the search to find a permanent manager: Collins was not interested in the role long term, but he would stay in the interim role until a replacement was found.

“Mark has done an outstanding job for us, and frankly, if he was applying for the permanent position, he would be the clear front-runner for that,” Corrigan said.

During the first search process, a Texas-based firm was hired to lead the search, which narrowed down 74 applications to two finalists, but, ultimately, the Routt County Board of Commissioners opted not to hire either of the two finalists.

“We decided that we simply had not found the right person,” Corrigan said. “We’ve been told that we very well may have been a victim of timing.”

Top-tier candidates for the job may have been nervous transitioning in their career during a pandemic or may have been reluctant to leave their current role in the midst of the pandemic.

Because of Collins’ willingness to stay on until they found someone to replace him, Corrigan said commissioners opted to start over, hoping to conduct a search process at a more opportune time that would yield more qualified candidates, especially women and people of color.

“That was another disappointment that we had in our former recruiting process, was really a dearth of female and minority applicants,” Corrigan said. “We raised that issue with not only our last recruiting firm but also our current recruiting firm.”

Still, Corrigan said white men dominate county manager positions, and the vast majority of applications they received were from white men. Commissioner Beth Melton said any organization benefits from a more diverse applicant pool.

“In 2021, it would be great for any candidate pool to not be homogenous,” Melton said. “I would love to see a pool that is more diverse, but I don’t think that prohibits us from finding a good candidate.”

In February, the county hired the executive search firm KRW Associates for $19,500 to help find candidates for the position. Julie Kennedy, purchasing agent for the county, said 11 responses were received from the county’s request for proposal. Four firms were interviewed as finalists, and KRW was the clear choice, she said.

Not only did KRW have the lowest cost, but Kennedy said the company also had a very well-thought-out process and connections with people looking for this type of job within Colorado.

Melton said she would like to see the next county manager be a person who can help the county reach its goals.

“Going forward, I would like to see the county in more of a position to address the pain points and the most pressing needs of community members across the county,” Melton said. “Their really important role is to take the policy priorities of the commissioners and really translate those into actions on the part of the staff.”

Not only is the county manager position important for internal communication but also should play a role in coordinating with municipalities within the county. Commissioner Tim Redmond believes government organizations work best together when things start at a staff level, and he thinks the county manager will be crucial at starting that communication.

One of Redmond’s goals as a commissioner is to help Northwest Colorado work better together and try to minimize repetitive work by various governments.

“I am looking for an individual that is very self-motivated. I see this as a dream job,” Redmond said, adding that the new county manager will play a large role in both the creation and implementation of the new strategic plan for the county. “I’m expecting the best and the brightest to come forward for this.”

Kathy Nelson, human resources director for the county, said the plan is to hire a new county manager sometime in June or July.

“I think our goal is always, of course, to find someone, but most important is finding the right person,” Melton said. “I would hope that we wouldn’t go through an entire process again and not find the right person, but we are not going to hire the wrong person.”

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