Picking a city manager probably isn't as important as, say, picking a spouse. But it's almost as tricky.
You want someone who is capable and fits your community. And you can only hope the right suitor knocks on the door. After a year, it appears Ron LeBlanc and the city of Durango are quite the pair.
"It's been a great year," LeBlanc said during an interview Jan. 8 - the one-year anniversary of his official first day.
Depends on how you define "great," but it certainly was eventful. It was a year of near-record snows, a devastating downtown fire and a nationwide economic crisis. A trying year, at the least.
"It's part of the profession to have a career where you can't predict, because everything is outside your control," he said in the City Hall office his predecessor inhabited for 25 years. "You just have to have the skill set and ability to roll with the issues and prioritize."
Consider his first day as city manager, which started with a 7:30 a.m. meeting. It was a Tuesday, and that evening the City Council held its regular session. LeBlanc found himself in the midst of an emotional discussion on the Interim Development
Ordinance, which, as unsexy as it sounds, had attracted a standing-room-only crowd.
Well, what do you think, new guy? LeBlanc knew enough to keep himself off the hot seat.
"I need to do some more research," he told the crowd.
Thus ended what he calls "the six-hour honeymoon." By the time the meeting ended, it was 11 p.m. A full day, for sure. To be followed by a full 12 months.
"Ron is really a blessing for the city of Durango and its citizenry," said John Wells, chairman of the Business Improvement District board. "In the short time he's been here, he's proved that he's going to be a long-term asset for our community."
Strong words. And things can turn south fairly quickly in these kinds of relationships. But LeBlanc has been around long enough to know that.
LeBlanc is nothing if not prepared. It shows in the meetings he attends, and even in this interview, for which he'd typed a sheet of his 2008 city government highlights.
From the moment he arrived in Durango to interview in October 2007, he's worked hard to prepare for the job.
"Ron has really fit in well with the organization and the community," said City Councilor Doug Lyon, who described LeBlanc as both well-prepared and hard-working. "He hit the ground running."
LeBlanc was born and raised in Rhode Island and earned his undergraduate degree at Boston College, with a double major of political science and psychology. ("I use both every day, probably more of the psychology than I ever thought.")
He then went to Boulder for graduate school, earning his master's in public administration from the University of Colorado in 1979. He stayed on the Front Range for 12 years, working as deputy city manager in Arvada.
"I consider Colorado to be my home, and I hope to retire here," the 55-year-old said.
After Arvada, he worked in Connecticut, Kansas, Oregon and finally Ketchum, Idaho, where he was city administrator before Durango plucked him away.
He's the first to admit that he didn't have to start from scratch here. He followed Bob Ledger, Durango's city manager from 1982 until he retired in 2007. He and Ledger see each other periodically.
"I can't say enough about my predecessor and the organization that he left for me to take over," LeBlanc said.
The learning curve was steep, but LeBlanc had the experience not to be daunted. He asked each city department head to list three community players he should meet. For nearly half a year, he set up meetings with those people, and processed a wealth of information, history and perspective.
"There are a lot of land mines (that) you can step on if you're not aware of what's out there," he said.
LeBlanc was tested early and often. Snow removal pushed the endurance of city crews and citizens. The city needed a new police chief, and it was up to LeBlanc to set up the interview process and make the hire. When the economy went bad and the city's revenue stream weakened by March, LeBlanc had to guide the city's fall-back policy, making budget cuts where needed.
"We didn't let it be a crisis," LeBlanc said of the city's finances. Even during this financial downturn, the city has improved its bond rating, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars and creating a chance for more savings when, this spring, the city issues bonds for the Florida Road project.
This spring also will bring a welcome change in LeBlanc's personal life. His wife, MaryAnne, and youngest son have been living in Idaho while that son finished high school. In May, they will move to Durango, and the son is considering Fort Lewis College. Their other son is a junior at Montana State.
So what pitfalls, crises and opportunities lie ahead for Durango? You can only attempt to be prepared. And if the first year is an indication, it appears we have a city manager who is.
email@example.com John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.