Down to 5, county manager candidates meet the public

Commissioners make selection process more open

Vernon Greif, left, talks with La Plata County manager candidate Frank Lancaster as Dick Norton, far right, talks with candidate Michael Segrest on Monday evening at the Irish Embassy during a meet-and-greet of the five candidates. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Vernon Greif, left, talks with La Plata County manager candidate Frank Lancaster as Dick Norton, far right, talks with candidate Michael Segrest on Monday evening at the Irish Embassy during a meet-and-greet of the five candidates.

La Plata County commissioners will open more of the county manager selection process to the public, County Commissioner Bobby Lieb, said Monday.

“It’s a response to criticism in the first round about the openness of the process,” said Lieb, chairman of the board of commissioners.

Just before more than 50 residents turned out Monday for a public meet-and-greet with the five county manager finalists, officials announced a special meeting would be held at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in the meeting room at the La Plata County Courthouse to discuss the candidates and possibly make a selection.

The process is different than the search’s last round, when commissioners held a closed-door meeting and made a decision to pass over all of the candidates after holding interviews and a public reception.

A pending legal claim filed by The Durango Herald has prompted a court’s review of the audio tapes from those meetings to determine if the state’s open-meeting law was violated and if portions of the tapes should be made available to the public.

In addition to the special meeting Wednesday, commissioners also scheduled a closed-door session immediately after the hearing to discuss employment negotiations with the finalist.

“We have a good pool of candidates. I’m set to make a decision,” said Commissioner Kellie Hotter.

The announcement of the special meeting came after the morning’s closed-door candidate interviews, which Lieb said “went really well.”

Lieb had more than one favorite, a good thing, he said, because four of the five finalists also are vying for a position in Estes Park.

The finalists are: Edward Green, former Garfield County manager; Frank Lancaster, Larimer County manager; Joseph Kerby, Delta city manager; David Mitchem, Pagosa Springs town manager; and D. Michael Segrest, a California-based consultant who is a former Smowmass Village town manager and a former assistant city manager in Boulder.

Kerby is the only candidate who is not a finalist for the Estes Park job, though Green said Monday he already knew he wasn’t selected for the post.

The other candidates made no similar mentions, and each declined to say if they had a preference between the two towns.

Each of the candidates gushed about La Plata County, touting its many recreational activities and its economic security as reasons for wanting the job. The candidates also touted the current staff and the county’s strong budget as draws.

Segrest said, “You’re not trying to dig out of a deep hole here.”

Similarities to their current or former positions also attracted the candidates.

They know the ropes here, they said, from the challenges of developing mountain communities, to the urban-rural political clashes, to living alongside forests and fostering local colleges.

Candidates with a Colorado history, Lieb said, seemed to make a difference. “I feel much better about this round of interviews.”

The candidates’ Colorado ties, Lieb said, mean the county likely will land a new manager who knows the laws, and the “mindset of the West.”

He added, “The cultural fit is there.”

hscofield@durangoherald.com

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