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Cortez City Council eyes Chris Burkett for interim city manager

Former city employee would start in May
Chris Burkett, left, explains a city grant to Austin Bullock during a City Council work session in 2013.

After Tuesday’s municipal election, one of the Cortez City Council’s first tasks will be the appointment of an interim city manager.

The current manager, Shane Hale, has recommended Chris Burkett.

Since Hale announced his resignation on March 23, the council has been racing against the clock to find a replacement as well as an interim manager who can take over when he leaves in May. At a special meeting on Tuesday, current council members tentatively agreed to appoint Burkett, who has worked for the city in a variety of roles, including Parks and Recreation director. But it will likely be up to the new council, including three new members, to decide whether he is approved.

The hiring process is lengthy. On Tuesday, Hale recommended that the city advertise the position nationally for a month, which he said was a “tight” schedule. After that, the city will form a resumé review committee to narrow down the applicants to 10-15 finalists, which the council would whittle down to three or four interviewees.

The city will begin advertising nationally for a manager by Friday, but it also needs an interim manager who assumes Hale’s responsibilities during the hiring process. Hale recommended Burkett because he’s one of the most experienced city employees and isn’t busy running a department.

“The employees and people in general really like Chris,” he said. “I think his selection would be really popular.”

During his time as head of the Parks and Recreation Department, Burkett oversaw the development of city parks, and the construction of the Cortez Recreation Center. More recently, he wrote the grant application that allowed the city to purchase the site of the old Montezuma-Cortez High School for a new park, a project he may have to oversee as interim manager.

Several council members said they agreed with the choice, including Bob Archibeque, the only current member who was involved in hiring Hale.

“It is a home run,” he said. “(Burkett) knows everything about this place. You can’t bring someone in who has that kind of history.”

Burkett said Hale approached him with the possibility of stepping into the interim position. Retired from full-time government work, Burkett spends about one day per week writing grants for the city, and he said he can continue that work while overseeing summer projects as interim city manager.

“I’ve been with the city going on 40 years this May,” he said. “What’s another two, three months doing something different?”

Hale and the council will spend the next few weeks working out details like Burkett’s work hours and salary, as well as the city projects that will take highest priority during the transition.

Hale said his appointment will most likely come before the council for approval on April 24, the council members Gary Noyes, Michael Lavey and Sue Betts will be sworn in.

Appointing Burkett would give the council more incentive to hire a permanent city manager quickly. He plans to leave on a trip to China on Sept. 14, and although Hale said another city employee might be able to take over for a few weeks, he said it would be better if the city had a new manager before then.

Also on Tuesday, the council created a job description and advertisement for the position. The draft of the ad, which council members tweaked slightly for spelling and wording, asked for an “ethical, innovative, visionary and strategically thinking” candidate with at least a bachelor’s degree in a field related to public administration, or equivalent experience.

It offered a salary of $101,000 to $115,000 per year, plus benefits, and described attractions in and near Cortez like Mesa Verde National Park and Canyons of the Ancients.

According to a timeline Hale gave the council, a list of finalists for the position should be made public on May 21. The city hopes to hire a city manager in mid-June.

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