The Montezuma County commissioners named Melissa Brunner as the new county manager Monday.
Brunner, 46, is currently the chief financial officer for the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 school district. She will take over as county manager by September 1.
In an interview this week, Brunner discussed her background and management style.
“I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity,” Brunner said. “I grew up in the county and feel this job is very close to my heart.”
Brunner graduated from MCHS in 1985, and earned an accounting degree from Fort Lewis College in 1988.
She worked as a CPA for five years and as the accountant for Gonzales Construction for six years before working for the school district. She replaced Jim Riffey as CFO in 2002.
Her skills balancing the books will come in handy managing the county’s $37.8 million budget, distributed across 16 specialized funds including law enforcement, social services, public health, and road and bridge.
“I believe that my skills managing different departments at the school district will transfer over well to this position,” she said. “Government accounting is very specific about what can be done with funds.”
Her approach to handling difficult county issues such as land-use planning, development and public lands issues is to listen to all sides and have respectful dialogue between different groups.
“The first thing is that everyone gets heard,” Brunner said. “I think it is a good exercise to try and put yourself in someone else’s shoes so you can see an issue from a different perspective.”
But first, she needs time get up to speed on all of the issues of the county. Fostering a smooth transition at the Re-1 district for her former position is also a priority right now.
She fielded questions on her goals and various county challenges and controversies, emphasizing that it will be a learning process.
On her goals: “I don’t have a big agenda for change. I feel I can make the county run more efficient.” Grant writing will be one of her responsibilities.
On land-use planning: “Consistency and fairness is important. It makes it easier for people to know what to expect.”
On working with public lands officials and issues: “I need time to learn and listen to all the facts.”
On the budget: “The rules need to be followed; we have to keep in compliance on funds given to us by the taxpayer.”
On laws, including those on open meetings and open public records: “I will follow the law. Honesty and public participation is part of the process. We do not want to make the wrong decision that will keep our attorney busy bailing us out.”
On running a meeting: “People need to be respectful, and different opinions need to be heard.”
During heated debate: “Walking a day in another man’s shoes makes a difference in how we act. When we make an effort to understand each other we can reach consensus rather than cause confrontation.”
On management style: “I take a far view, and will manage for the future. I’m conservative and don’t run with the latest fad. I want to establish a general direction and go that way with minor, not major adjustments along the way. I want to avoid flip-flopping on issues and changing direction every other day. There may be times when we do not all agree but we need to stick with our decisions as a team and adhere to them. Life is full of compromises.”
Brunner said the opportunity to help run the county feels like her destiny.
“This is my home, where I grew up and I want to make a difference for Montezuma County,” she said.
As county manager, her salary will be $80,000 annually, plus benefits.