The next La Plata County manager will face big challenges, including a tight operational budget and a contentious land-use code revision.
The three finalists for the job, Jim Halasz, D. Michael Segrest and Chuck Stevens, described to The Durango Herald how they would approach those challenges during a sparsely attended public reception Monday evening.
The candidates were chosen from a pool of 60 applicants to fill a position left vacant by County Manager Joanne Spina, who retired earlier this year.
Jim HalaszHalasz said he would bring experience working in counties with tight and declining revenues. He cited work as a county manager in Virginia and Michigan.
“I am familiar with right-sizing organizations,” he said.
Before any budget decisions are made, he would make sure La Plata County residents are informed about the choices the county is facing, he said. He would also look for creative solutions.
Halasz said he is also supportive of investment in the community that can help maintain quality of life.
Outside expertise could help to finish the land-use code revision and help the staff understand options and subtleties, he said. But it, too, would require additional community outreach, he said.
“It’s the community that sets the course,” he said.
Halasz resigned his previous post in 2018 as a county administrator in Halifax County, Virginia, at the request of the Halifax Board of Supervisors, the equivalent to county commissioners.
“It was what was best for the community,” he said.
Some community members were dissatisfied with him, and members of the county board asked him to resign because it was time for a change, he said.
In 2015, the Board of Supervisors called a vote of no-confidence in Halasz, but it failed. Halasz said, after that vote, community members asked him to stay, so he did.
At the time, critics blamed Halasz for “operating in secret and retaliating against employees who questioned his decisions,” SoVaNow.com reported.
La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt previously told the Herald each candidate was subject to an extensive background check. She said Halasz openly explained the situation at Halifax County, and the review committee was confident in making him a finalist.
D. Michael Segrest Segrest said his work with municipalities such as Boulder and Lakewood prepared him well to work as a county manager. Counties and towns tend to have similar budget structures and deal with similar concerns from residents, he said.
His goals during his first year on the job would be guided by the goals of the commissioners. However, he sees county revenue as the biggest challenge facing the community. He said he would like to better understand how the county can do the best it can with its resources.
“I have never worked for a community that didn’t have financial problems,” he said.
When it comes to land-use, he said it’s important for the county to have a process and regulatory structure that will support its long-term goals.
Segrest is now a public sector consultant based in Boulder. He applied for the La Plata County manager position previously in 2012. Joe Kerby was selected as manager at that time.
Chuck StevensStevens is serving as La Plata County’s interim county manager, and if selected to lead the county permanently, he would set ambitious goals. He would like to make significant progress on the land-use code revision and have a solution for the revenue challenge the county is facing in his first year, he said.
He would create an environment for the planning staff to succeed, and the first step would be to ensure the department is fully staffed, he said. La Plata County Planning Director Jason Meininger resigned in March.
The county commissioners must decide how to solve the county’s revenue woes, he said.
However, he would lead an effort to gather the data and help the commissioners make an informed decision. He noted the mill levy in La Plata County hasn’t been increased since the 1980s.
“You can’t operate an organization, any organization or a household for that matter, on 1980s salaries, incomes, revenues in 2019,” he said.
Stevens first came to La Plata County in 2015 as an applications manager in the county’s information technology department. Before working for the county, Stevens served for 25 years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a senior leader.