Council starts Aspen mayor search


Aspen City Council on Monday approved an employment contract making Sara Ott interim city manager while also signing off on the process to recruit a permanent one through a national search.

Ott, who has served as assistant city manager since May 2017, will be the interim city manager through Sept. 1 at a salary of $195,255.

She is replacing Steve Barwick, who resigned at council’s request Jan. 7. He will now serve as an adviser to Ott at his current salary of $195,229. He is expected to leave the city no later than March 1.

And March 4 is the deadline for recruiting firms to submit bids via a request for proposals to do a nationwide search for a new city manager.

After much discussion on process and admitting they haven’t done this before, council members signed off on the timeline that city human resources director Alissa Farrell presented to them.

A selection committee comprised of Councilman Ward Hauenstein, Mayor Steve Skadron, Farrell and possibly others will ultimately choose a headhunting firm.

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It’s estimated a selection will be made by April 8, and council will sign a contract by April 15 and approve it on April 22, according to Farrell’s timeline.

It will likely take months to find qualified applicants and whittle the list down to finalists for council to consider.

The hope is to have someone hired by the fall.

That recruitment process is estimated to cost between $20,000 and $35,000, according to Farrell.

Hauenstein said he wants the city to “cast a wide net” in looking for applicants, and to find the appropriate person as soon as possible.

“We have to make the right choice,” he said.

Farrell said she is relying on many other experts and human resources cohorts in the public sector for help.

“This is the highest priority I have,” she said.

Barwick is leaving the position he held for 19 years with a severance package of a year’s salary, the ability to own his government-controlled house for a year and six months of health insurance for him and his wife, along with accrued paid time off.

Council signed off on those details in a separation agreement Jan. 28.

According to Ott’s employment contract, her new salary is retroactive from Jan. 8.

Her job responsibilities changed on that date, once Barwick was terminated by a majority of council as a result of a series of missteps with communication with the public on city initiatives.

If Ott were terminated as interim city manager, she would receive 10 months’ salary as severance. If the agreement is extended beyond Sept. 1, the severance becomes a year’s salary.

Once a new city manager is hired, Ott will return to her assistant city manager position at her former salary of $162,843.

If Ott returns to her assistant city manager position and is terminated, she will receive a six-month severance at her salary at the time.

The city also will reimburse Ott as much as $2,500 in attorney’s fees for negotiating the employment contract.

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