Mesa County to retain administrator position

Interim Mesa County Administrator Tom Papin has recommended commissioners hire a permanent administrator who will continue to manage the county’s day-to-day operations while also suggesting the board communicate more directly with employees.

The county is expected to renew its search for an administrator and hire an executive consultant to help with that process. The consultant, Fred Rainguet, assisted Pitkin County with the hiring of former Mesa County Administrator Jon Peacock as its new county manager.

Papin said Monday he arrived at his recommendations after meeting with every county department head and elected official and talking with various members of the community. What he said he heard was that although employees and community leaders were pleased with the commissioners’ handling of the county’s finances and support of local businesses, they said “there were some gaps” in other areas of county governance.

“Everyone I talked to led me to the decision that the county administrator is needed, almost to serve as an air-traffic controller, in terms of keeping the day-to-day business of the county moving forward,” Papin said.

He said some department heads indicated they wanted commissioners to be more involved, but not so much in management as in having a better understanding of departmental inner workings, issues and challenges.

As part of a change in the county’s organizational model, commissioners will individually serve as communication liaisons between the full board and individual departments. Commissioners will also serve on the county communication, fiscal advisory and quality assurance committees.

After the board was unable to reach a consensus on hiring former Osceola County, Fla., Manager Michael Freilinger, Commissioner Janet Rowland suggested the commissioners consider adding administrative duties to their policy-making ones rather than hire an administrator. But several elected officials expressed opposition to the governance change, claiming communication problems emerged and employee morale sunk after Peacock resigned last summer.

Rowland said she likes the concept of commissioners being more directly involved in communicating with staff.

“I think it will make it much more clear what our vision is for the county and also enable us to hear back from them on challenges they’re having,” she said.

She said Papin suggested organizing county departments to whom commissioners serve as liaisons into three areas: internal services; public safety, health and human services; and infrastructure, facilities and planning. The entire board is expected to meet monthly with department heads.

Rowland, who previously indicated the commissioners’ inability to agree on Freilinger left her concerned whether they could settle on a future candidate, said Monday she is “cautiously optimistic” that the board can agree on an administrator selection and salary.

Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who strongly opposed switching to a commissioner-run form of governance, applauded Papin for concluding that the county should hire an administrator. He said Papin has improved county governance even in his five short weeks on the job.

“He’s made a noticeable difference in our board’s ability to function and stay focused and get on track and have a productive relationship with elected officials,” Acquafresca said.

Acquafresca said there’s no reason to believe commissioners can’t agree on an administrator, noting the board unanimously supported hiring Papin on an interim basis and appointing Tracey Garchar to lead the Department of Human Services.

“I think just because we previously focused on one candidate (Freilinger) and were unable to achieve that consensus, that’s just one case,” he said. “That’s not reason enough to get discouraged or frustrated.”

Commissioner Craig Meis couldn’t be reached for comment Monday evening.


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