The movement to hire both a city and county manager in Leadville and Lake County is gaining ground.
Leadvillians have not taken kindly to the idea of hiring government managers in past decades. The county manager position has proved particularly contentious, resulting in terminated contracts, a lawsuit and various public outcries over the need for and intent behind the position.
As Leadville and Lake County grow and change, our local governments must keep in step. The city and county recognize this need and are working to reorganize staffing structures to increase efficiency and long-term stability. Hiring a city and county manager is an essential part of this vision.
The City of Leadville currently utilizes a “strong mayor” form of government. Mayor Greg Labbe, an elected official, works full time. He manages all city departments, creates the budget, works with partners on municipal projects, sits on City Council and more.
This approach to municipal government is relatively rare in Colorado. Most municipalities, including Salida, Buena Visa and Breckenridge, function under a “weak mayor” system. Under this model, the mayor is a part-time, public-facing elected official with few to no internal management responsibilities. A city manager (or administrator) oversees day-to-day functions of government in the mayor’s place.
City Council has discussed a staffing reorganization periodically over the last three years and could move to a “weak mayor’” form of government as soon as 2022. The municipality is currently hiring a full-time administrative assistant, a position Labbe expects to one day morph into an “assistant to the city administrator.”
The county is also looking at bringing on a manager. A county manager would similarly lead the county’s internal management on a daily basis, including the supervision of department heads and management of the budget. The majority of Colorado counties have a county manager in place, including Chaffee, Eagle and Summit Counties.
Lake County Government recently received a sizable Department of Local Affairs grant to help invest in a county manager position over a three year period. And the Board of County Commissioners plan to post the position in the coming months.
The internal management duties that now sit with our mayor and county commissioners inhibit their ability to research and react to complex statutes, represent Leadville and Lake County in regional and state partnerships, and conduct long-term planning.
It is also important to remember that elected officials come from all walks of life — they are often not career government workers. City and county managers have studied the complexities of government and are trained to work through them.
Lastly, elected officials come and go. When mayors and commissioners leave office, the knowledge they gathered, the projects they spearheaded and the relationships they built, often depart with them. City and county managers have no term limit; they help maintain institutional knowledge and continuity of government in times of transition.
We are all spread thin, especially this year. The Herald looks forward to the days when the leaders of our local governments are less strained.