The five candidates for Cortez city manager introduced themselves to the public in a City Hall open house Monday night.
Mark Campbell, Timothy Dodge, John Dougherty, Phil Johnson and Martin Moore are the finalists in the city’s search for a manager after Shane Hale departed in May. After a day of tours in Cortez, interviews by a professional hiring panel and meetings with staff, the candidates talked about their qualifications at a public meeting in City Hall attended by about 50 residents and city employees. The City Council plans to hire a manager by the end of June.
Each finalist spent about five minutes introducing himself, then mingled with the crowd. Comment cards were available at the door to the council chambers, and Mayor Karen Sheek asked the audience to write down their thoughts about each candidate before leaving.
All five candidates praised Cortez’s government staff during their introductions, saying they were impressed by what they’d seen of the city. They also spoke about their achievements in city government and their ideas for Cortez.
Campbell, who moved to the U.S. in the 1990s from Northern Ireland, has served as city manager in La Grange, Missouri, and Kremmling, Colorado. He highlighted his time in La Grange, where two natural disasters – the Mississippi River flood of 2008 and a record snowfall in 2011 – struck during his eight-year tenure.
“I have a lot of experience in getting the federal government, especially in emergency situations, to try and procure your tax monies back to the community that they were sent from,” he said.
He said he has overseen “record sales tax” revenue in Kremmling, as well as following a detailed comprehensive plan for his five years there.
Dodge said he believes a city manager’s job is to recognize the strengths of a community and encourage growth in those areas. The Santa Rosa city manager, who previously worked in Las Vegas, New Mexico, brought his wife, daughter and granddaughter to visit Cortez for the first time this week. He said they enjoyed the parks and the friendly residents.
Dougherty faced the hardest sell during his introduction, since he had been fired or had failed to receive a contract renewal in three of five previous government positions. He explained his latest contract nonrenewal, in Kingman, Arizona, by saying that a new city council “wanted to go in a completely different direction.”
He also noted that some of the tension between him and the city councils that fired him in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, and Hebron, Ohio, came from his failure to communicate adequately with all members of staff. But he said he’s learned from those experiences and would be careful to follow Cortez policy for staff and public communication. During his introduction, he said he is “fiscally conservative” and has left every town where he worked in better financial shape than when he got there.
Public Works Director Phil Johnson, the only candidate with no city manager experience, said his 4½ years working for the city have given him the knowledge of its inner workings he would need to be an effective manager.
“This is a great team to work with,” he said. “I think that I would do a really great job, for continuity’s sake, with the transition.”
Dodge used part of his own introduction to praise Moore, whom he nominated for New Mexico City Manager of the Year in 2015 – a title Moore won in recognition of his service in the town of Eunice. In his introduction, he said he had experience improving towns that were struggling financially, and he pledged to be transparent and teachable if he were hired as city manager.
“I’m serving you, the mayor and city council,” he told the council members in attendance. “That’s my job.”
The candidates had different perspectives on the biggest issues facing Cortez. Johnson and Dougherty both said their first priorities as city manager would be to secure enough water for potential years of drought. Campbell said he would work to provide affordable high-speed internet for residents, a project he worked on in Kremmling as part of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. Dodge said he didn’t have a specific goal for the city yet, but would make it his first order of business to listen to city staff and find out what concerned them most.
“From what I’ve seen, the organization works real well together,” he said. “There are some issues going on ... but I think those are multifaceted issues that take more than just individuals talking, it takes a whole community talking, a whole region talking about how to address it.”
Moore mentioned several things he would like to accomplish as city manager, including more fiber infrastructure, more capital project grants and greater financial transparency.
On Tuesday, the City Council spent all day interviewing the candidates in executive session. The next public meeting in which the council could make a hiring decision is on June 12.