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County manager complements Colorado resort town

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff
Shown from the left are Hilary Smith, county manager for Pitkin County, Colo., and Summit Steps Forward chairwoman Deedee Corradini.
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The thought of hiring a manager to oversee county government irks some rank-and-file staffers at the Summit County Courthouse in Coalville.

But as elected officials panned a plan to hire a county manager and replace the county’s three-member County Commission with a five-person council, the manager of Pitkin County, Colo., home to the city of Aspen, spoke Thursday about the advantages of a council/manager form of government.

"I look at the resources and I look at how we can allocate those resources in a more efficient way," Pitkin County Manager Hilary Smith said in an interview Thursday. "Some dollars that are spent just really don’t need to be spent."

With voters poised to decide Nov. 7 whether to replace the three-person Summit County Commission with a five-member county council and appointed manager, Park City resident Deedee Corradini insisted Smith earns her $130,000 salary.

"If you have a professional, they can be full time watching the budget and trying to make government as efficient as possible," said Corradini, a former Salt Lake City mayor who now chairs the Summit Steps Forward committee, a group pushing voters to support changing the county’s form of government on Election Day.

Summit Steps Forward paid for Smith’s visit to Summit County.

Though the plan’s staunchest critics could stomach expanding the commission to five at-large representatives, they say paying someone a six-figure salary to manage the county’s department heads would be a waste of tax dollars.

"Since we’re growing at such a rapid rate here and the issues are getting more and more complex, [county managers] more than pay for themselves in terms of their expertise in finance, budgeting and so on," Corradini countered.

Coordinating closely with elected officials in Aspen, like the sheriff, clerk or assessor, has allowed her to reduce spending and prevent officials from isolating themselves, Smith said.

"They’re not operating wholly independent of the county structure," she said. "I have open office hours and I have citizens who walk in and tell me they don’t like the way we plow a street."

Meanwhile, hiring a county manager would provide needed separation of powers in Coalville, Corradini added.

"Right now, our county commissioners have both administrative and legislative powers, which I think is an inherent conflict and also very inefficient," she said.

The five commissioners in Pitkin County rely on the county manager, Smith said.

"It relieves them of a lot of the burden of the day-to day work," Smith said. "They know that the roads are getting plowed, that the landfill is in operation and that the jail is operating."

More than 60 percent of the Summit County electorate in 2004 voted to study whether the three-person commission form of government should change. A year later a study committee recommended the council/manager form of government that voters will decide on in November.


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