Finalists for Glenwood Springs’ city manager job meet with residents

The three finalists for the City of Glenwood Springs City Manager position, from left to right, John Craig, Jen Ooton, and Joe Neeb.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Glenwood Springs residents had the chance to visit with the three city manager finalists on Friday.

During a meet-and-greet at the Glenwood Springs Community Center on Friday evening, candidates met with residents, staff and answered questions about how they would lead the city if chosen by city council.

John Craig currently serves as the assistant county administrative office for Mono County in Mammoth Lakes, California. Joe Neeb is currently serving as the city manager of Roswell, N.M., and Jennifer Ooton is currently serving as Glenwood Springs’ assistant city manager. 

Here are some of the questions candidates answered on Friday evening:

What do you think the biggest challenge for the incoming city manager will be?

John Craig:

“I think three of the major challenges are probably housing, continued economic development and growth in the taxes that we receive from tourism and the overall management of your financial picture of the city.” 

All indications are, the city’s run very well financially, he said.  

He plans to focus on economic development in making sure the city is able to draw in industries and businesses but to also support what is already here, he said. 

Joe Neeb: 

“We have aging infrastructure, playing catch up all the time, streets seems to be a big, big thing that is spent a lot of time on,” Neeb said. “The nice thing is that the projects that they have done are in great shape, and it shows what can happen when we focus on what we need to take care of.”

The biggest challenge for the whole staff is trying to focus on prioritizing and getting things done.

“There never seems to be enough resources to go around for any community, and Glenwood Springs is no different to that,” he said. “The idea is to prioritize and take care of those things that are the most important first and then work your way down.”

Jenn Ooton: 

Some of the biggest challenges are the fire impacts on the water system and the debris flows in the I-70 corridor. With all that hard work by city staff, there will still be several years of impact, but closures this summer have already started to diminish due to the work done, she said.

“I think that we just want to continue to focus on our great community, and, between having diverse businesses and continuing to have great parks and recreation amenities, I think that’s really the future,” she said.

City of Glenwood Springs city manager candidate John Craig.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Any specific plans or ideas to work on workforce and affordable housing?

John Craig: 

“There’s no real, immediate fix for that. It’s doing the small things every day, providing more affordable housing, perhaps making it more user-friendly for businesses to come in and developers to come in and build housing,” Craig said.

The high number of apartment complexes is not suitable for families. Creating more affordable housing for families would be a major task, he said.  

Joe Neeb:

Housing is a big thing for Glenwood Springs, and it has been for a while. 

“There are some opportunities I believe that could be visited,” he said. “That may or may not fit for Glenwood Springs, but it could generate the conversation to figure out how to manage that workforce housing more than anything else.”

“Colorado and Glenwood Springs have a really nice, affordable housing need,” he said. “The challenge is that I believe the need is bigger than the affordable housing itself is workforce housing and getting the workers a little bit closer to the community they serve.”

Jenn Ooton: 

We have been working through various measures, policy decisions and changes to the code such as the hotel conversion policy that we just implemented, and I hope to see that help, she said. 

“Our department, community development, has been working really closely with other entities in the Roaring Fork Valley on a regional approach to housing, and kind of focusing on the development neutral strategy,” she said. “So, not building new, but matching people’s ability to pay, and closing the gap for the price that people are able to pay and the price that the market will bear in terms of housing, we’re working through those things.”

City of Glenwood Springs city manager candidate Joe Neeb.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

How experienced are you with grant writing?

John Craig:  

Oftentimes, money that municipalities, cities and counties get is federal money. Many municipalities might not understand the process, he said.

 “I’ve seen the other side of D.C., understanding how federal funds flow,” he said. “I think I certainly have the skills to meet with decision makers whether it be in Denver, in D.C. or for the national representatives. Knowing the process, the first step is seeing the availability of funds.”

Joe Neeb:

In his first community, Neeb was able to get a grant for $150,000 to build that city’s first park. Since then, his experience has grown to receiving a Federal Aviation Administration grant, which can cover large expenses. 

“I think the good or bad of this is that there’s a lot of money flowing, federal assistance and everything else,” he said. “Having somebody apply for that money and bringing it to the community will be very important. I have a background in it; I can’t say I’m an expert in it, but I can assist.” 

Jenn Ooton:

She has been working closely with the city’s grant-writer on Sustainable Strategies and also attending weekly meetings with Sustainable Strategies to find grants that will best fit projects the city has, while also reaching out to other entities to get letters of support, Ooton said. 

Assisting City Engineer Terri Partch in applying for a number of infrastructure grants, traveling with Partch and Mayor Jonathan Godes to obtain grants and even lobbying to keep grants are all examples of grant working experience, she said. 

“Mayor Godes and I actually went to Washington, D.C., on a trip to advocate — not necessarily for a specific project but for the continued grants that we’ve relying on,” she said. “So, lobbying for those programs to continue to remain because we knew their importance.”

City of Glenwood Springs city manager candidate Jenn Ooton.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

How do you plan to handle recruitment and compensation?

John Craig:

“The issue is a nationwide issue coming out of the pandemic, trying to find what it means to work these days,” he said. “Here for Glenwood, I think what that means is being creative in the way in which we go about attracting.”

When he had his budget director offer her resignation because she couldn’t find the childcare she needed, Craig offered to reduce her hours to 30 hours a week, so she could be there for her children and also maintain employment.

“So it’s very tricky, but it’s important to listen to the employees (whom) you have and understand what their needs are, rather than just saying, ‘Let’s throw money into this,’” he said. 

It’s important to meet people where they are in order to get what we need out of them, he said. At the same time, make sure that those who are committed and are currently working, you’re taking care of, as well.

Joe Neeb:

“When I looked at some of the information with the city, we need to make sure that we keep people for a full career because employees are people, and employees are the one asset that actually appreciates in value if you take care of it, if you train, it if you feed it, if you take care of it,” he said.

“It is very important that you keep that core, and you continue to add on top of that. The challenge for Glenwood Springs is finding the people with specific qualifications, like human resources.” 

Jenn Ooton: 

“I think that we need to be creative. In terms of recruitment, I think that we’ve done a really great job doing that,” she said. “We won’t always necessarily be able to compete with the private sector. We certainly work to remain competitive, but I think that one of the best ways that we can recruit is to have this be an amazing place to work, and it is.”

We also will need to continue to do all the outreach through all of the various channels and all the places and any other creative ways that we can let folks know that we’re hiring, she said.

Members of the public wishing to share comments for the city manager selection process may email City Council directly at City council will review comments confidentially as part of their executive session on Thursday, September 15, according to an email from Bryana Starbuck, public information officer for Glenwood Springs.

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