When political upheaval leaves voids in government leadership, Mark Garcia helps keep towns running across Southwest Colorado.
In 2009, Garcia took over as town clerk and administrator in small-town Center in the San Luis Valley when its clerk Bill McClure committed tax fraud and went to jail.
In 2014, Garcia stepped in as interim town manager in Silverton when the town board fired both the town manager and public works director after months of conflict.
And now, Garcia is serving as part-time interim town manager in Ignacio, taking over after the town board fired Lee San Miguel in 2015, without cause.
Among the top tasks Garcia has taken on while working in Ignacio is overseeing a branding effort to help the town’s reputation. So far, residents have favored “Rooted in Culture” as a brand for the town.
“It’s meaningful to me. Whenever I do an interim stint, I give it my all. I’m really committed to the task at hand,” Garcia said in an interview with The Durango Herald.
He is also working on finishing the town’s first capital improvement plan that outlines and prioritizes construction projects Ignacio needs. The plan could help the town make the case for a potential ballot measure to raise taxes to fund the project, he said.
Garcia began his sort of peripatetic life of civic service in 2008 after he resigned from the town of Pagosa because the town board asked him to.
“My family didn’t want to move, my children were born and raised there and dug in, so I looked at various options and one of them was to start consulting with small to mid-size communities,” he said.
It evolved into serving as an interim leader in places that endured unsettling circumstances, and sometimes that meant he had to work in contentious situations.
In Center, he showed up the day after McClure was fired. The administrator’s desk was overturned and the office was in disarray.
“The outgoing manager was there, questioning me,” Garcia said.
He helped right Center’s government during his short tenure, notably brokering a deal for the town and the school district to share services, he said.
In Silverton, he took over after two key staff members were fired during the same meeting. He stepped in just in time to oversee a tense election to recall a town trustee. It started with an effort to recall four board members, but later just one board seat was in question.
During his leadership in Silverton, a disruptive resident once showed up at Town Hall to yell at Mayor Chris Tookey. The resident tended to disrupt Town Hall during business hours regularly, he said.
“He would do it by phone, he would sometimes come into Town Hall and demand things,” Garcia said.
The incident was so bad that Garcia closed Town Hall for a few days to allow town staff members to regain their composure.
As Silverton’s interim town manager, Garcia replaced the clerk and the director of public works to help stabilize a government that had been rattled to its core.
“Those were two key hires that really anchored the town,” he said.
But Garcia has not always taken over interim jobs after high-drama and high-profile firings. Since 2008, he has also worked for the towns of Antonito and Monte Vista, Alamosa County and as CEO of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. But he prefers city government roles.
“Working for municipalities, you impact citizens’ lives more than any other form of government,” he said.
Not all roles are come-and-go.
Since he left his post in Pagosa Springs, he has managed projects for Ouray. He currently is managing the $10 million renovation of the town hot springs, which is almost finished.
He is also managing the city of Monte Vista’s Urban Renewal Authority grant to address dangerous and dilapidated housing that has become a nuisance in some neighborhoods.
“They have had two or three houses that have caught fire,” Garcia said.
The Community Development Block Grant grant will pay to demolish or rehabilitate and resell the homes, he said.
Before starting a career in public administration, Garcia, a mechanical engineer, worked for a private company on ships chartered by the U.S. Navy. He traveled the world.
“The travel was fun for a while, but it wears you out,” he said.
He also wanted to spend more time with his family.
Garcia and his wife moved to Pagosa Springs after visiting 32 states. He started working for the town on its geothermal heating system. Ultimately, he worked for the town for 14 years, the last five as manager.
As he has moved around the region to run town governments, Garcia said he is amazed by every community and its values.
“I like to see what makes communities tick, and every community has important elements that are important to the people,” he said.