Mike McKibbin

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March 13, 2013
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Sturgeon ready to face challenges as city manager

Rifle's next city manager is very familiar not only with the building and staff; he's had a hand in many of the top issues over the last 11 years.

Assistant City Manager Matt Sturgeon is negotiating a contract with the city to succeed John Hier, who is retiring in May after nine years.

Sturgeon was the only in-house applicant to apply for the position after Hier announced his plans to retire last month. City Council agreed to negotiate with Sturgeon and not advertise the position at its March 6 meeting.

"I'm very happy with what Matt's done for the city," said Mayor Pro Tem Alan Lambert. "If you look around Rifle, I don't think there's much that's been accomplished that doesn't have Matt's hand in it. I don't think we could do much better than him."

Council met in a closed door executive session after their meeting to provide direction to City Attorney Jim Neu in negotiating with Sturgeon. A contract is expected to be on the council's March 20 agenda for approval.

Sturgeon has worked at City Hall for the last 11 years, first as planning director and then assistant city manager for six years. He came to Rifle from Pueblo, where he was the Pueblo County senior planner.

Sturgeon received a political science degree from the University of California at Irvine, where he met his wife, Kelley.

"I'd taken some classes in planning, but I also looked at being a teacher or a lawyer," Sturgeon said in a Monday, March 11 interview at city hall. "So I looked around and found a degree in urban and regional planning."

He then began to work on his master's degree at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo College, but left when he was offered the job in Pueblo.

Sturgeon noted planners often move into management positions, and added Hier did the same thing.

"You get exposed to almost all aspects of city operations," Sturgeon said. "Streets, parks, sewer, water, they're all included in the projects planners handle. About the only thing you don't deal with is budgets, but I've been on the city budget committee as assistant city manager for the last six years."

Budgeting can be frustrating, Sturgeon added.

"When I first came here, they were spending the last of their oil shale reserves," Sturgeon recalled. "The last four or five years have been frustrating, too, but that pales in comparison to what we went through during the [oil shale] bust."

But, Sturgeon noted those times and issues are also when the job is most challenging and fulfilling.

"It's like puzzles and I've also liked puzzles," he said. "Making things fit together so the whole thing works."

Sturgeon said the city council recently went through an extensive strategic planning session that set the city's goals, and one of his first challenges will deal with staffing.

"We had [former government affairs coordinator] Mike Braaten leave [for a job on the Front Range], there's my position as assistant city manager and Aleks [Briedis, the city's recreation director] is leaving, too," he said.

Sturgeon said he will look at the city's organization and see how best to fill the vacancies.

"We may end up with one parks and recreation director instead of one of each," he added.

The project Sturgeon said he is "pretty proud" of having a hand in helping develop was the civic center plaza. The Garfield County Regional Library District was going to build a new library on East Second Street, but Sturgeon and others with the city worked with the library district on the plaza instead.

"I think the city's way of evaluating things led the library board to have the confidence in moving that forward," he said. "It wasn't originally what they had in mind."

That project is also an example of the cooperation Rifle has had with other governmental entities, which is often the opposite in other locations, Sturgeon noted.

"That's another thing I like about Rifle," he said. "We don't go through the trials and tribulations a lot of cities do. We cooperate and don't get caught up in how do we get there. We get things done."

Sturgeon, who will be 43 years of age in May, and his wife, Kelley, have two children. Makenna is 14 and Carter is 12.

Sturgeon said he and his family are pleased they will be staying in Rifle.

"We enjoy the community and I see only positive things ahead," he added.

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The Post Independent Updated Mar 13, 2013 05:24PM Published Mar 13, 2013 05:21PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.