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Durango mayor says one term in office is enough for her

Barbara Noseworthy touts fixing finances and positive changes in culture as biggest achievements
Noseworthy

Mayor Barbara Noseworthy said she will not seek reelection in April to Durango City Council.

Although Noseworthy was not particularly vocal about her plan to serve just one four-year term on City Council, only sharing the idea with close friends and some supporters, she said it was clear in her own mind that one term would be enough for her.

She said her biggest concern with serving multiple terms is that the people who often get elected to City Council tend to be retired, self-employed or independently wealthy. She wants to see broader, more diverse representation in local government.

“I’ve always wanted to see a diverse council that reflects a variety of beliefs, of lifestyles, of economic situations, because I think that brings the reality of that experience to bear,” she said.

City Councilor Kim Baxter also announced last month that she will not seek reelection in April.

Noseworthy said she wanted to do something for the community during her time in office and she didn’t want to limit her decisions on council to what would help her get reelected.

Finance revamp
OpenGov, the city’s online finance portal that allows residents to examine the city’s budget in real-time, launched in September 2021. (Courtesy city of Durango)

Plenty has changed since Noseworthy was elected in 2019. The city went from an embezzlement case that year and messy, inaccurate finances to a revamped, healthy organization thanks to the adoption of more efficient financial technology, she said.

She recalled examining the budget in 2019 and finding error after error. She said she and Baxter independently reviewed the budget. She found one item that differed from the budget’s cover page by $350,000. Another item was off by $450,000. The worst offense was a line item off by $10 million.

“I learned that the way the city did its budget was it would do it on an Excel spreadsheet and then cut/paste it onto a Word document,” she said.

Noseworthy said the September 2021 launch of OpenGov, the city’s online finance portal that allows residents to examine the city’s budget in real-time from anywhere (with an internet connection), was a huge accomplishment for transparency.

“Anyone can get on OpenGov and look at all our finances and see everything: What bills have been paid, what hasn’t, how things are moving,” she said.

OpenGov might be a little unintuitive to navigate, but Devon Schmidt, city budget and strategic planning officer, is more than happy to teach residents how to use the webtool upon request, she said.

Following the 2019 embezzlement case, which resulted in the sentencing of the city’s former financial officer Julie Brown to 90 days in jail and 20 years’ probation for embezzling more than $712,000 from town coffers over 11 years, the city underwent an overhaul of best practices and policies.

Fixing finances was a significant accomplishment for the city, but it also made Noseworthy’s first two years in local office long ones. She said being a councilor felt like a full-time job. Now, she said she dedicates about 80 to 85 hours a month to attend city meetings, sit in on committees and talk with constituents. Those first two years of office required way more of her time.

Madrigal

The mayor said she is also proud of City Council hiring José Madrigal as city manager. When she ran for office, concerns she heard from residents were about the budget as well as customer service. And, people were just having a hard time getting on board with what the city was trying to accomplish.

“I was really looking for someone who was going to make a cultural change in the institution,” she said. “And I just feel like (Madrigal’s) gone beyond my hopes.”

Madrigal promoted city staff from within and fostered a “customer service mentality” among employees, she said. He worked to improve coordination and integration between different city departments to form adept, cross-functional teams, which the city hadn’t had before him.

“While I can’t necessarily take credit – I put the credit on José – all I know is I was part of the team that hired him and so I feel very proud of that hire,” she said.

New work culture and improved financial transparency are all good and well, but the city still faces big challenges going forward. Housing is chief among them, Noseworthy said.

“It continues to be the biggest problem that I see that needs to be addressed,” she said. “Because even when you talk about the economy and creating businesses here that are good-paying jobs, that’s not going to happen unless people have a place to live.”

She said she is pleased the city hired Eva Henson to head its new housing division and again credited Madrigal for ushering that in. But now, the city must rise to the task of finding a dedicated funding source for at least the next 10 to 12 years.

“We need money to work with the developers to incentivize them to build more moderate homes. And that’s a risk for them,” Noseworthy said. “It’s easier to build a multimillion dollar home and you know you’re going to sell that.”

A 16-inch water main broke near Plymouth Drive near Riverview Elementary School in October 2017. Some water and sewage pipes underneath Main Avenue and around the city are between 50 and 75 years old. The aging infrastructure will remain an ever-present challenge to the city of Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

City infrastructure – sewer and water pipes, streets and alleys and the like – will continue to be a major issue for the city. Pipes under Main Avenue are between 50 and 75 years old, she said. Pipes will break and city crews struggle to find the source of the leak. Stormwater management isn’t sexy, but it’s necessary, she said. As evident when alleyways flood.

Progress has been made on vital city infrastructure over the last 3½ years, but existing infrastructure isn’t getting any younger and future councilors will face the same issues.

The inevitability of climate change also hangs over the city of Durango. Noseworthy said the city must make certain it addresses the phenomenon responsibly. The city made strides in fire mitigation, which the mayor helped drive forward along with Councilor Melissa Youssef and La Plata County, she said. But the city’s water supply must be protected, which could be feasible by tapping into Lake Nighthorse. The idea is being explored.

And, the city must continue to make efforts to be inclusive to diverse communities, she said.

“Not that we aren’t. But in the spirit of continuous improvement I think we can always do that,” she said.

While the city’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts aren’t directly related to Noseworthy’s role on City Council, she did elevate those efforts by inquiring about translation services and making sure parks and amenities are equitably distributed around town, she said.

“I really want to see an economic map,” she said. “Have all neighbors benefit(ed) or are some neighborhoods not getting the same kind of amenities?”

Noseworthy said she plans to travel after she leaves office in April. Then she’ll start thinking about what to contribute to next. The art community? Something bigger?

cburney@durangoherald.com

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