The Town of Pagosa Springs could be looking for a new town manager — or not.
Recent news of a job search conducted by Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem has raised questions regarding how he informed his employers (the Pagosa Springs Town Council) that he was actively seeking other work and about the timing of that announcement.
According to a story last week in The Durango Herald, Mitchem is among five finalists being considered to fill a vacancy in La Plata County for county manager. The La Plata County Board of County Commissioners met yesterday morning to decide on who will fill the position. However, the La Plata BoCC delayed that decision for another week in order to complete background checks and collect more information.
In the meantime, Mitchem has also applied to be manager for the town of Estes Park. In addition, he applied to be county manager for Larimer County in October.
At issue is how and when Mitchem informed council and Mayor Ross Aragon that he was actively searching for a management position with several Colorado communities. Rather than alerting Aragon and council immediately regarding his intention to pursue other jobs, Mitchem withheld that information until The Durango Herald made it abundantly clear that Mitchem had applied for the La Plata job opening.
In fact, Mitchem didn’t inform most council members about his application for other jobs until the day the Durango newspaper ran a story about his selection as one of the five finalists for the county manager position. In fact, almost every trustee said that they did not know about Mitchem’s intention to apply for a position in another locale until either after they read The Herald story or after Mitchem sent out e-mails following publication of that story.
“I found out the day it was in The Herald,” said Trustee Darrell Cotton.
Trustee Stan Holt also said he read the news before Mitchem contacted him. “I read it in The Durango Herald,” Holt said. “He sent me an e-mail asking to meet with me and then he called me. When I did, the next day, he told me then.
“I was surprised,” Holt said.
Trustee Kathie Lattin also said, “That’s when I found out, when I read it in The Herald.”
“I believe the article was in The Herald on Wednesday of last week,” said Trustee Shari Pierce. “I received an e-mail Wednesday evening from David (addressed to council and staff) letting me know that he was a finalist for the La Plata County manager position and including a link to the article. Then he called me on Thursday morning to request to meet with me at 11 a.m., prior to the council meeting. I couldn’t make that due to a family emergency. I have not met with him since. He has never mentioned the Estes Park or Frederick (Larimer County) interviews to me.
“The timing of the announcement bothers me simply because if he intends to leave Pagosa Springs, as it appears that he is planning to do, and he truly cares about our community, he should have given the council as much notice as possible,” Pierce said. “The council will have to determine what to do next, i.e. finding an interim town manager, and then decide on the process they will use to hire a new manager. This isn’t something that happens quickly. Was I surprised that he didn’t give us more notice? No.”
Only trustee Don Volger said that he knew that Mitchem was applying for jobs in other communities prior to the Herald story. Saying that he was “a close, personal friend of David’s,” Volger added that “family issues” had led to Mitchem’s pursuit of other work and that he had been told about Mitchem’s job search in confidence (as it related to those family matters).
Regarding Mitchem not telling the rest of council about his three applications for jobs throughout the state, Volger said, “It’s a mistake I’m sure he won’t repeat should this situation arise again.”
For his part, Aragon said that he knew about Mitchem’s applications a week before his board was aware that the town manager was seeking another position.
“He said his name might come out in The Herald in the next few days,” Aragon told SUN staff on Tuesday. “It was very hypothetical, at the time, as far as if he’d get the position.”
When asked why he did not alert council as to the possibility that their town manager might be leaving, Aragon replied, “I got very busy on my own, with my paid job, with a HUD inspection going on, so I didn’t have the time.”
Aragon said, regarding the potential that his town manager could be leaving, “To me, it was not a big shock. Because it was hypothetical. Managers stay a few years and then they, they look for something to step up to. He just said it might come out in The Herald.”
When asked for a reaction to Mitchem’s potential for leaving, Aragon laughed, “I can’t slander somebody like you can ... I didn’t take much stock in it.”
The SUN made numerous attempts over the course of several days to contact Mitchem regarding the situation and to give him the opportunity to comment on the timing and nature of his announcement, but Mitchem did not respond.