In hiring its new county manager, Clear Creek did not publicly announce the names of its three finalists at least two weeks before making an offer to the selected candidate, which the Colorado open meetings law requires.
On April 30, the county announced Brian Bosshardt as its new county manager after the Clear Creek Board of County Commissioners approved a contract with Bosshardt the previous day.
However, at no point during the selection process did the county publicly announce — in a press release, on social media, on its website, etc. — its finalists before hiring Bosshardt.
Clear Creek officials maintain the county remained in compliance through other means.
Under Colorado law, the county must make public the list of all finalists under consideration at least 14 days before appointing or employing any of them. This is only required when a government entity hires its chief executive officer, such as a school district superintendent or city manager.
Only after Bosshardt’s hire was announced on April 30 did the county release the three finalists’ application materials to The Courant as required under the Colorado Open Records Act, known as CORA.
In separate interviews with The Courant, the commissioners stated they were unaware of the statute, and they look to the county attorney to ensure Clear Creek is in compliance in such matters.
County Attorney Peter Lichtman said Clear Creek complied with the public notice requirement by stating on Board of County Commissioners meeting agendas that the county manager hiring process was to be discussed in executive session.
He also said that had anyone submitted a CORA request for the finalists’ names and materials before Bosshardt’s hire was announced, the county would have released them. But no one did.
“In retrospect, I still think we complied with the law,” Lichtman said.
However, while the commissioners ultimately are the ones to make the hire, the law allows time for public input on the decision, Jeff Roberts of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition said.
“That’s a proactive thing (government entities) are supposed to do — make the list public,” Roberts said. “… There’s no transparency in the way (Clear Creek County) went about this.”
Roberts said he’s never heard of a government entity in Colorado interpreting the law this way, explaining that the statewide debate now is whether naming a sole finalist is sufficient or whether there must be multiple finalists. The 14-day public-notice requirement remains, though, he emphasized.
The three finalists were:
• Bosshardt, who runs his consulting firm for leadership development and previously served as the city manager of Bedford, Texas;
• Abel Montoya, who’s been Gilpin county manager since August 2018; and
• Jeffrey Durbin, the former town manager of Fraser, Colorado, who withdrew before final interviews.
Outgoing County Manager Keith Montag, who remains on staff in an hourly consulting capacity, officially retired May 1.
Last fall, when the Clear Creek Metropolitan Recreation District was hiring a new general manager, it announced its five finalists in a press release shared on social media.
While not required in the Colorado open meetings law, the community was invited to watch and listen to the finalists’ interviews on Zoom. Search committee members later described how an overwhelming amount of community support for the now-general manager solidified CCMRD’s decision to hire her.
Although not required by law, Idaho Spring followed the same process earlier this year and publicly announced three finalists for police chief. The city had short biographies of each candidate available on the city website and social media. It also hosted a virtual public forum so the community could ask the finalists questions before City Council hired a chief.
Commissioner George Marlin said he was aware of how CCMRD and Idaho Springs conducted their searches, adding, “In our case, we had the need to move a little faster. The decision (to hire Bosshardt) became pretty clear, pretty fast for us.”
According to Commissioner Randy Wheelock, the county received 51 applications for the county manager job, and the commissioners asked staff to pick 10 candidates to advance.
Of the 10, Wheelock said some withdrew to take other jobs, and the county conducted preliminary interviews with six candidates.
The commissioners narrowed the list to the three finalists, though Durbin withdrew.
The leadership team, which is comprised of county division directors, conducted final interviews, and officials contacted Bosshardt and Montoya’s references. About a week later, Clear Creek had its pick, according to Marlin.
“We felt like we had it right,” he said. “I do think our process could have been better informed by the public, and I believe that the outcome would be the same.”
Wheelock and Commissioner Sean Wood also said the process yielded the best candidate, but public input would have been beneficial.
Because a previous Board of County Commissioners hired Montag more than six years ago, Wood said he was not familiar with the public-notice requirement. So his baseline for comparison was hiring a county attorney, which Clear Creek conducted in late 2020.
Roberts clarified that, in Clear Creek’s case, publicly releasing finalists’ names at least 14 days before a hire only applies to the county manager, its chief executive officer.
He also posited that putting a notice on a board meeting agenda and making finalists’ names available only by request does not meet the “shall make public” requirement in the open meetings law.
“The public is still entitled to know who the finalist or finalists are, so they can see who’s being considered for the job and do any vetting of their own,” he continued. “… There are all sorts of reasons for a transparent process.”