Mesa County’s first female manager ready to go
Chantal Unfug’s transition to her new assignment — she completed her last day of work in Denver on Monday, drove over the mountains Tuesday and walked into the Mesa County Courthouse a little before 8 a.m. Wednesday—may have been equaled in its quickness by her ascension through the Denver Parks and Recreation Department.
After serving for three years as a strategic adviser, she was promoted to deputy manager at the beginning of this year, then named manager in April by then-Mayor Bill Vidal.
The way Unfug sees it, the whirlwind that has been her professional life the past six months prepared her for the next step in her career: Mesa County administrator.
Here, Unfug will oversee roughly 900 employees and manage a $130 million budget. In Denver, she operated a 700-employee department on a $100 million budget. She called the Parks and Recreation Department “a city within a city,” noting it wrestles with public safety, roads and bridges, planning, open space and other larger-picture issues faced by entire cities and counties.
As she prepares for her first full week on the job, Unfug said she believes the county is on solid footing, and she doesn’t see herself as an agent of change.
“I need to steer the ship rather than divert it,” she said.
Mesa County’s first female administrator and third-generation Coloradan said she began scouting for positions in city and county management five years ago, conducting informal interviews with city and county managers she knew to get a taste of the job. Her brother-in-law sent her the Mesa County job description. She applied and beat out three other finalists. Commissioners cited her experience in local government administration and organizational and strategic-thinking skills.
Unfug said she was drawn to the Western Slope for both personal and professional reasons. Her brother-in-law, sister-in-law, mother-in-law and father-in-law all live in the Grand Valley. She wanted to live somewhere where she wasn’t concerned about her two school-age boys “being in front (of the house) without me watching.”
In researching the county, Unfug said she concluded county leaders have positioned the county well to rebound from the recession. She also was impressed with the value placed on community partnerships and credited commissioners for their fiscal prudence and public transparency.
As an example, she noted that meetings between commissioners and County Attorney Lyle Dechant are open to the public. Those same meetings in Denver would be held in secret, she said.
Commissioners Janet Rowland and Craig Meis have said in the past they believe the county should be run like a business. Asked if she agreed with that assessment, Unfug said it’s “not a black and white answer.”
“Government shouldn’t be the entity that does everything for everyone all the time just because we’re asked to,” she said, adding the economic downturn forced governments to prioritize their basic, core services.
At the same time, she said she understands the toll that budget cuts can take on employees, claiming the Denver Parks and Recreation Department withstood the most layoffs of any city department that doesn’t receive federal funding during her tenure in the department.
As the county begins to recover financially, Unfug said she believes her background in economic development and communication will serve her well as administrator.
She previously worked as an economic-development specialist and acting director of marketing for the Denver mayor’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Unfug also said she knows Mesa County Workforce Center Director Sue Tuffin, and she worked with Grand Junction Economic Partnership Interim President Kelly Marlin in the Denver Parks and Recreation Department.
Unfug said her experience in the Office of Economic Development, along with working for a public-relations firm, gave her experience in working with citizens in a way so they feel heard.
“I’m excited to be here. I’m jumping in with both feet,” she said.
Unfug takes over for Jon Peacock, who resigned a year ago and has since been hired as the Pitkin County manager. Tom Papin, a former Mesa County Department of Human Services director, served as interim administrator since January.