There are plenty of factors associated with the La Plata County manager search that can prompt significant head-scratching, but given all of the interesting variables at play, the county commissioners made the correct decision to delay a decision on a candidate. Doing so gives all involved time to conduct due diligence and ensure that the final selection is made carefully and with all the relevant information and input at hand.
Now in its second round since Shawn Nau left the post last summer, the manager-selection process has been fraught with challenges. The first attempt ended when commissioners decided in a closed meeting to forgo the five finalists that process yielded and begin the search anew. That decision prompted a lawsuit brought by the Herald claiming the county violated Colorados open-meetings laws. It also sent commissioners back to square one in finding a permanent replacement for Nau.
From that place, the county commissioners have been more attentive to conducting an open process, but it has been nonetheless strange.
All but one name on the slate of finalists the county selected appear on a final-round list in Estes Park, which is hiring a town administrator. Gary Suiter, La Plata Countys interim planning director, was hired by Estes Park to conduct the towns search for an administrator. Suiter maintains that it is merely a coincidence that the two searches turned up such a monolithic list of finalists. That may be, but it certainly raises questions about who influenced the searches and how.
It also has placed La Plata County in a bit of a timing pickle. Commissioners were expected to make their decision at a meeting on Wednesday but delayed the vote so as to allow staff to complete background checks on the candidates. That is the right move, of course no candidate should be offered the position until that process is complete but it places the county in even more direct competition with Estes Park, whose leaders have reportedly made their decision about whom to hire.
The fact that the county and Estes Park are considering four of the same finalists in the search for an administrative leader is somewhat bizarre. The link between the two entities is Suiter, and while he claims no conflict of interest, there is a bit of explanation due. That the two processes are running concurrently and on virtually identical timelines necessarily sets the two entities as well as the applicants for the respective positions into some degree of competition. Whether that competition is necessary or appropriate is worth considering.
Regardless, though, the county commissioners are navigating a difficult situation and now appear to be doing so with a commitment to openness. That should expand to include some disclosure of the details of this search, given the complicated and oddly interrelated nature of it to that of Estes Park.
Hiring a county manager is no small undertaking indeed, it is the only such personnel matter delegated to the board of commissioners. In carrying it out, Commissioners Bobby Lieb, Kellie Hotter and Wally White are obligated to conduct thorough and inclusive searches that consider a wide range of candidates and vet them carefully. That takes time sometimes more than anticipated but the result will reflect the process that yields it. Slowing down to complete background checks was the right decision, and it will help ensure that whoever the county hires is a good fit for a crucial job.