Sun, Aug. 18

Editorial: Cottonwood at key crossroads in search for new city manager

One of the hallmarks of outstanding organizations is a commitment to succession training. It is a process by which the organization’s leader strategically trains people to take over as CEO once that leader retires or takes another job.

In the Verde Valley, we’ve had two organizations that are textbook examples of the wisdom of this leadership model. Both the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District and City of Cottonwood have promoted its superintendent and city manager positions from within for three decades now … with very good results.

For the city, Cottonwood is at a philosophical crossroads as it moves forward in the search for a city manager to succeed Doug Bartosh.

First, a few words about Bartosh. His critics – especially those in the gutter realm of social media – say he is a spendthrift. There is some truth to that, but at the same time he could be considered bold. Bartosh had a keen understanding that Cottonwood was a 12,000-citizen city that in reality served a population of about 40,000 people. His has been a game of catch-up. While his predecessors are lauded for their conservative approach in operating the city, the clock was always ticking on the need to position city services to keep pace with the demands of a regional population that relies on the city for employment and retail opportunities not found elsewhere in the Verde Valley. Bartosh was bold in pushing the envelope to properly position the city. If that makes him a spendthrift, fine, go ahead and pin that label on him. It does not take away from the fact that Cottonwood has progressed tremendously under his leadership.

Like his predecessors – Brian Mickelsen and Chuck Sweet – Bartosh also has done an admirable job of positioning his management team to take over as city manager when he steps down from the job in early 2019. One of those people is Deputy City Manager Jesus “Rudy” Rodriguez, who is one of the five finalists for the city manager job. Rodriguez is more of a fiscal conservative than Bartosh. He has incredible institutional knowledge of city operations and history. Without a doubt, he is one of the most honorable men in the Verde Valley.

Even more commendable for Bartosh is the positioning of the second-generation core of potential city managers now serving the city in various capacities. People like Kirsten Lennon, Ryan Bigelow, Hezekiah Allen and Morgan Scott all have the rising credentials and expertise to one day become Cottonwood city manager.

But there is another school of thought in Cottonwood about the unique needs of the city manager to take Cottonwood forward over the next 10 to 15 years.

Many believe, and there is strong legitimacy to this belief, that Cottonwood needs a new, outside set of eyes that can see what the municipality should become as a 40,000-plus population city. The other four who join Rodriguez as finalists for the manager’s job all come from communities much larger than Cottonwood. One of them very well could be that important new set of eyes that envisions a future Cottonwood that escapes the rest of us.

No doubt, the city council has a tough decision to make in the weeks ahead. The decision is not so much about the person selected for the job, but a choice based on the philosophy of where the city has been, where it is going and how do we get there.

The big question is, who will lead the way?