Dara MacDonald

edited June 2016 in Opinion

It's a tough, thankless job. Being a City Administrator puts a target on your chest on Day One. This is particularly true in communities that are rapidly changing. The irony is that the growth that stresses a community the most is often accelerated by a City Admin who is doing his or her job.

This job is both to manage day to day BS, and also to oversee and maintain a macro vision for their community that transcends their detractor's and their supporter's bitch du jour (that's not an official description).

A City Admin is essentially a CEO, and by this definition the roll generally requires strong leadership and a purposeful style. Many of the great CEOs' of large companies have historically been controversial, regardless of their success—and often because of their style. Their job is not to be liked, but rather to get shit done. Do they bend or break rules? Probably. But, I'm a rule breaker, so what do I know? In non-elected, high-profile management positions if you sneeze in the wrong direction you've probably broken the law, and it's probably pissed someone off.

I have never met a City Admin that didn't have a target on their back. It's a transient profession. It's contentious as hell. You may be in the camp that dislikes Dara. If so, you might seek solace knowing that if you throw her out, chances are you'll get someone you dislike even more.

If you are new to town, or a part timer, challenge Dara on what she believes. She will tell you, and you may not like it. Trust me. But, mark my word, with Salida's changes entering warp speed, as soon as we replace a person who is raising their kids here, with some Career Administrator whose eye is on the next, bigger city to manage—that will be the day Salida becomes the Aspen so many love to hate.

As I look around Salida I do not like all the changes. But, having lived here for nearly twenty years this feeling is driven more by nostalgia than a dislike of the changes, and I like that we are weathering the insane growth with some style. It may look different than when Laura and I arrived with our babies (who have since graduated and moved on), but Salida is still funky. How can this be?

How can we be loaded with all these rich retirees with their fancy cars, yet maintain a distinct Salida vibe? I believe it is, in part, because our CEO is hyper local and she sincerely appreciates art, bikes, boats and beer. Too simple? Maybe. But, the authenticity of Salida's charm is fragile and it's not enough to manage the Salida brand like you would in Denver. Here, you have to know the roots—you have to drink some whiskey with the old timers and rip some single track. You have to dance your ass off at FIBArk, then volunteer too early for something that probably supports kids. I have not always agreed with Dara, but I know she "gets" Salida. If your CEO doesn't truly understand the culture, you've got bigger problems than bumpy roads.

The word on the street is that on Tuesday, May 17, at 6pm people will be filling Council chambers. Maybe you should find out why?


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  • Well stated. Thank you Bill

  • Bill, Love your thoughts on this disgraceful situation! What a few well organized negative people are doing needs to be put into perspective! Hopefully the (mostly) silent majority will for once speak up on this! See you Tuesday, May 17, at 6pm at the city council meeting.

  • edited May 2016

    The principle comment above sounds like Tom Yerkey on the Carlisle-Farney Amendment: "It's just two people that want to change things."

    The silent majority has spoken in the last two elections.

    The City Administrator is not a CEO in a city with a Mayor / Council form of government, such as Salida. The Mayor is the CEO. CRS 31-4-102(2)("The mayor of the city shall be its chief executive officer....")

    An Administrator is akin to a CEO in a City Manager form of government. See, CRS 31-4-211 and 212.

    MacDonald has certainly worked hard to make herself a de facto City Manager - her first contract (drafted by Hanlon) said she would have the duties of a city manager , the police chief answers to her, the clerk answers to her, and the treasurer answers to her. The Land Use Code was amended to grant her unfettered discretion. She has used pay raises and bonuses to rally the employees of the city against the citizenry, creating divisiveness.

    Yet Salida has a Mayor-Council form of government. Changing to a City Manager form of government requires that the issue go on the ballot for voter approval. Citizens have rights. MacDonald's way of operating tramples them.

    The Clerk and the Treasurer have important functions in a statutory city. The Clerk administers elections, responds to request for information and records executive session meetings. These powers and duties allow the Clerk to watchdog the Council and the staff. The Treasurer is supposed to prepare and mind our finances and budget, instead of some finance officer working under MacDonald's control.

    Hanlon drafted ordinances that debilitated the Clerk's and the Treasurer's powers. The Yerkey-led Council approved them. If our city government was structured in accordance with law, then Jan Schmidt would have to answer to the voters instead of to MacDonald, a much healthier situation for the city.

    Systems of government at all levels are well-served by professional bureaucracies that adhere to the rules, that honor the balances of power created by law, and that create trust in their efficiency and conduct. MacDonald is unfortunately not such a bureaucrat.

    In the last three years, she has never faced the citizens of Salida and fully and frankly answered questions put to her. Last year's "Town Halls" were propaganda, not events where she was interested in responding to citizens. She is way smarter than everybody else - she neither needs nor want to hear, nor appreciates the value of, differing opinions. If she disagrees with a directive of counsel, she just ignores it.

    I also cannot recall a single instance when she has bent or compromised without a stick being taken to her.

  • I've lived in two communist countries. A common trait is that the government is in business and business is good. Having support from the taxpayers is a terrific advantage; their businesses don't have to be solvent while a private business does need to be solvent. For example, The steam plant's events could be held at private businesses (bars, restaurants, churches)and entities such as schools or the community center. With public funds budgeted and readily available, the steam plant doesn't need to be fiscally responsible and can undercut proposals from all others. This is an unfair business practice. As far as I know, the city corporation doesn't have any solvent businesses.
    We, the people are playing second fiddle to business concerns. The top concern for the people is the low rent housing issue; The top issue for the corporation is real estate, development of business assets and power.

  • Thanks to all the above posters for not hiding their comments in facebook. I honestly appreciate their willingness to share their perspective with all.

    From the above, it seems the discussion has split folks into two camps: those who like the person who currently holds the position, and those who like someone who follows the rules and laws of the position. I'm not sure that we can't have both...

  • All, It is of value to recall that Jeff was furious about the construction, on the alley, behind Simple, which is near his Sackett property, and apparently remains upset about it, even though Michael Yerman, has left. Jeff has also said he would not sue individuals or groups unnecessarily. So he has seemed to feel it necessary to be involved with suits, against city representatives or staff more than once, including the second Council I was on. He has as an agenda, lets see where it goes and does.

    The comments about the Treasurer and City Clerk of the City assumes there are skilled and competent people running for the position. Apparently, historically that has not been the case, with the City approaching bankruptcy in the late 1990's on the financial side and clerks making all sorts of errors since, before Audrey.

  • Well put Bill. I commend Dara McDonald, Dan Osborn and the rest of the city staff for a job well done and the perseverance they have displayed and professionalism with which they have done their jobs while constantly dealing with the obstructionist group that calls themselves C.A.G. The citizens of Salida deserve better than to have to put up with a small group of armchair quarterbacks that simply have an agenda to get rid of a City Administrator that they don't like for their own personal reasons.

    Like Bill I have lived here for twenty years and have seen this town grow from an economically depressed retiree town with no leadership, no plan for the future and a crumbling infrastructure to a thriving town that is driven by a great art scene, a beautiful historic downtown and forward thinking residents that like what's going on here now. Much of that is due to a city staff that are locals at heart and actually care about the past, present and future of the community. This has shown in their relentless pursuit of grant money- according to Jan Schmidt, Dara has applied for and received over 12 million dollars of grant benefits for Salida. It has shown in their work to develop biking and hiking trails in and around Salida as well as the Riverwalk which has helped to restore the downtown area and revive Salida with a tourism-based economy. And it has shown in their integrity with the way that they have stayed the course while constantly dealing with mud slinging by a small group which includes the local newspaper editor.

    I also miss some of the old ways of living in a lazy mountain town with no traffic, no lines at Safeway and evenings of just me and my buddies at the ole watering hole but progress and growth have given me miles of new trails to ride, nicer parks to enjoy long summer days in, better paying jobs and many more positives that far outweigh the negatives. If you like where Salida is now and the bright future the current city administration has created then you should be very concerned with the actions of a few citizens and decisions by a few council members that have attempted to obstruct progress at every level lately and have even driven off an extremely competent, over qualified and under paid finance director. Are we all going to agree and like every decision that is made by any City Administrator? No. But that's what leaders do is make tough decisions for the well-being and overall strength of the entity they are representing. Dara and her staff do just that.

  • I felt a little tickle above and behind my left ear last night, Jay. I had no idea it was you running around inside my brain! :-)

    As to the "historical" cracker box ADU behind Simple Hostel (located one foot closer to the northeast lot line than allowed), I lost. My neighbors before Fritz would not have done such a thing - we treated each other fairly and with courtesy. Win some, lose some - gotta move on.

    That ADU will be part of Dara's legacy. So will the industrial human incinerator across from Riverside Park ... and the massive, out-of-character structure that Walt Harder and Mr. Diesslin are poised to build at 300 Park Avenue, on variance obtained with the advocacy of staff ... and the money-pit that is Vandaveer Ranch and the NRCDC.

    A lot of folks appreciate Dara's perceived accomplishments. Others disagree with her methods and see her giving with the left hand while taking with the right, and also enjoying discretionary power far beyond what a statutory city's administrator should have.

    Both views have merit. The latter will never disappear so long as Dara remains the oak instead of the willow.

  • Thank you, Jeff, for having a sense of humor. Yes, the cracker box is ugly and in the wrong spot.

    It was interesting listening to those in support of Dara last night. I agreed with some but not all. Most were business people, entrepreneurs of some ilk, realtors, and developers. They apparently have been having fun. Not all of the myriad of physical changes that have occurred in Salida are, in my view, positive, but we have been discovered, and that was reinforced last summer by the "Gentlemen". The avalanche is upon us. I hope the type of community (people) that we came to and joined 12 years ago can survive. We shall see.

    The actions of the majority on Council are of concern because of their intent to run the whole show. While some currently may be capable, inevitably with the passage of time and the changes in Councils, errors, such as happened in the 1990's, will occur with greater frequency. We live in interesting times.

  • edited May 2016

    Hmmmm.... I've had conversations over drinks with both Bill and Jeff A at some point over the last decade or two on more than one occasion.. Both reasonable, intelligent people who genuinely care about Salida. But if forced to say, I would admit that I lean towards the comment Bill wrote to start this thread. Here's why. I've known many people over the years with positions similar to Dara's and I can guarantee you that no matter how hard they work or how carefully and thoughtfully they answer questions, they will be considered terrible administrators/leaders by a surprisingly large percentage of people. When I've met people in the past who seemingly despise a certain policy maker or group who I know is doing a great job, I'll ask them why they dislike them so much. For example, I've asked people why they hated Obama, or the Pope, the Grateful Dead, Nascar Racing and even why they hated politicians who try to regulate guns. In 100% of the cases - Let me repeat that- 100% of the cases when I delved deeper into where and what makes them hate these people or entities, they have cited reasons that are either completely false, or based on an experience that had nothing to do with the hated subject. Unfortunately, this is how most people make their decisions. This isn't to say Jeff A is basing all his reasons to challenge Dara on false premises, but my guess is he is leaving out much of the positive directions she has implemented/approved. The same premise holds true when people tend to shower misguided approval on someone they have decided is practically flawless, and explains why such a large percentage of people are so gung ho over a callous, whiney, egotistical and shallow man who is currently running for president on the republican side- their ideas are shaped by things that they cannot let go of, no matter how little they know of actual reality!

  • You had me almost on your side until you cited your "For Example" and drug the presidential race into it.

    How about a LOT of folks are sick to death of where the country is currently, and know that the teflon criminal running against the whiney and egotistical shallow man would do little more than continue the current tax and spend entitlement mentality. Perhaps the mindset that anything is better than to continue along the path that's being taken is appealing to folks, according to the polls anyway.

    For me, I'll take God, Guns and Guts, over Allah, Obamaphones and food stamps / welfare every time. At least God doesn't want me dead.....

  • I wonder if there is anyone at City Hall who can sign paychecks besides Jan and Dara. I think that if they force Dara out the work of the City will come to a grinding halt. Some days it feels like that is what some of our City Council members want to happen.

  • As the Administrator serves at the pleasure of the City Council - and as this is not a lifetime appointment (unlike the Supreme Court) - transition is allowed. Just as in any government, when the newly elected take office, the old "crowd" goes and the new person brings in all their people - the government continues. Apple survived Steve Jobs; Microsoft survived Bill Gates' retirement - both much bigger entities than Salida. Salida will also survive and move on just as it has for over 125 years, IF the City Council makes that decision.

    Unprofessional behavior by the Administrator can been viewed at the 5/16/16 City Council Work Session. Start watching at 2:25:30. Not becoming at all - quite childish and immature.

  • HNT, I a had a conversation with Dara, when she was the interim and was thinking about applying for the job. I, in an avuncular tone, told her not to, as the job is a target, for all those frustrated with the communities evolution, including any new council.

    The difficulty with your analogies of Apple and Microsoft is that only one terribly important individual left both, with the rest of the team intact. Here in Salida, based on my prior experience, the current council have driven out the most important second, who was the finance person. Salida will survive, but it will be interesting to see the mess that might have been created.

  • Well hnt-----not sure what behavior you are referring to, would be fun to put a camera on everyone over a 4 hour period and analyze their behavior but not very productive. what i did witness is a very intelligent and articulate response by Dara as to her scope of work. i also witnessed a person that has a much deeper knowledge of duties, code, and ordinances than the Lawyer who has been hired as a hatchet man. What does seem clear is that we are now putting the responsibility of city management on the mayor, a temp. position to be sure and shifting our co-dependence from the administrator to the mayor which leads me to suspect that maybe the mayor will set him self up for a full time dictatorship??? It seems that this scope of services could have been written up by Dara and probably a better more cohesive job.

  • Our elected officials did the right thing; the employee refused to be instructed.

  • Well, wasn't her contract to expire next year? Why the hurry? perhaps the folks involved didn't think they would still be in power? I mean i would think it would take the better part of a year to transfer a position like that in a seamless manner. The Mayor claims we have a strong council. A split decision is not a strong council. Seems to be some underhanded not quite accountable behavior going on!

  • I think they offered a contract with some language to address some of the areas of concern. A middle of the road approach if you will... I don't think it was well received and thus they were left with little choice than to terminate.

  • Cory, that's what Hal Brown and LiVecchi would have you believe but in fact, they re-wrote key items in the scope of work aspect of the contract and refused to answer any of Dara's questions concerning these changes leaving HER no choice but to refuse a contract she did not understand. Such as the item they stuck in that says the Mayor and the Administrator both oversee city personnel. Dara asked what would happen if they disagreed. The response from the mayor never answered the question and his attitude was, you work for us and don't think, just do as we say. Elected officials are not educated in municipal management, do not have the experience to manage daily municipal decisions and should not micro-manage the city staff that is. If they find a legal problem that the Administrator is a part of that's a different conversation but there was not. This was a decision made by the mayor, Hal Brown, Melodee Hallett and Mike Bowers over personal differences that starting June 30 will be a fascist dictatorship led by LiVecchi. If there is a problem with the Administrator the council should have investigated and presented their findings to the citizens and let them decide instead they systematically removed three key city staff members with no plan for the future.

  • edited June 2016

    AnotherSalidan (who is that?), the "who has control? / micro-management" issues you describe may have existed. The fact is, though, those issues exist in EVERY statutory city organized under CRS § 31-4-101 et seq., and they existed in Salida before MacDonald became administrator.

    In a statutory city:

    "The mayor of the city shall be its chief executive officer and conservator of the peace, and it is his special duty to cause the ordinances and the regulations of the city to be faithfully and constantly obeyed. He shall supervise the conduct of all the officers of the city, examine the grounds of all reasonable complaints made against any of them, and cause any violations or neglect of duty to be promptly corrected or reported to the proper tribunal for punishment and correction."

    CRS § 31-4-102(2).

    If people want to have a City Manager form of government (CRS § 31-4-201 et seq), then they have to get it on the ballot and let everybody vote for or against it. CRS § 31-4-202. One group of people cannot unilaterally force a City Manager form of government upon those who don't want it, no matter how smart or magnificent they believe an administrator to be.

    By requiring voter approval to make a change, the state legislature has for over 100 years recognized the important distinction between "Statutory City" vs "City Manager."

    A successful administrator in a statutory city like Salida must artfully and graciously deal with the delicacies of the organizational structure. The vast majority do. Some can't.

    As to the "scope of duties," state law, the Salida Municipal Code, and MacDonald's contract had always imposed those duties upon her. That they numbered 150 or 160 or so is just life, and is why the administrator got the big bucks. Every item on the list had a clear citation to source. The administrator could have viewed it as a helpful checklist to proper performance of her job, but chose not to. The checklist will also be helpful for future administrators.

  • It's so liberating to find a safe place to express ones ideas and feelings. First, I think Salida will be just fine (if not better) without Dara. She had a very passive aggressive personality towards anyone she thought to be beneath her. The only persons she treated well were those who propelled her agenda. I found her personality very arrogant and rude. Some say personality shouldn't factor in to a persons abilities in a position but I doubt any billion dollar company would hire someone who rubbed the majority of the public wrong. If anything they'd hide them behind the scenes. Plus she created a Pro Dara / Anti Dara environment. Any good leader unites people rather than dividing them. And I do agree that she rallied City employees against so called "anti City" people. She threw them a bone while dumping the majority of resources into Capital. I'm hopeful the new City Administrator will take care of the employees and all the citizens. We are not two separate teams as Dara conveyed. Rather we are all lovers of this community and serve in different ways. Here's to a brighter future that will prove Salida's energy itself is what created and continues to create this thriving community. People need to quit giving credit to a self serving power hungry hateful woman.

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