4 Larimer County manager finalists make pitches to the public

·9 min read

A public event on Friday put the spotlight on the four finalists for Larimer County manager.

All the finalists — interim county manager Lorenda Volker, Jim Thompson, Paul Fetherston and Larry Dorr — are currently working in Colorado or have Colorado ties. Thompson's name may be familiar to those who followed Fort Collins' city manager search. He was a finalist for the position but withdrew his name in March.

Each finalist had 20 minutes to give a presentation introducing themselves to the community and answering a few county-provided questions, such as how they'd work to solve complex and contentious problems. Next, they participated in a round robin question-and-answer session and held a short meet-and-greet with attendees.

The event recording is posted on Larimer County's YouTube channel. The county is seeking community feedback about the finalists through June 27. A link to an online questionnaire is posted at larimer.gov/2022-county-manager-recruitment.

County commissioners plan to extend an offer to one of the candidates in July.

Here's a synopsis of each finalist's presentation, listed in the order in which they presented.

Lorenda Volker
Lorenda Volker

Lorenda Volker

Most recent position: Interim Larimer County manager since April

Other experience: Volker has been with the county since 2008, first as human resources director and next as assistant county manager starting in 2014. As assistant county manager, Volker led the county’s internal services department and the human and economic health service area, including leadership of behavioral health and broadband initiatives. She also has experience working for two municipalities in Florida, where some of her responsibilities included human resources oversight, coordination of public works departments and working as chief negotiator for collective bargaining.

Education: Bachelor’s in political science from Florida State University, master’s in public administration from Nova Southeastern University

What she said: Volker emphasized her experience with Larimer County and investment in the future of the community.

“For me, this is not just a job or the next step in a career progression,” she said. “I've been part of the county's leadership team for 14 years.”

Volker called Larimer County “the best, most innovative, forward-thinking, collaborative organization I have ever been a part of.” She said she’s adept at building collaborative partnerships within the county and across the state and wants to expand and nurture those connections.

County leadership: Larimer County's next sheriff will be picked in the primary election. Meet the candidates.

“I've proven to be an effective, ethical and approachable leader with strong ties to the community and the county,” she said. “My career experience, my education, my community and professional connections and my reputation for working collaboratively to identify issues and find solutions have led me to this place in time and to this extraordinary opportunity.”

Volker said she believes trust is built through actions that consistently demonstrate respect and engage the community to find collaborative solutions to complex problems.

“We should view engagement as a continuous effort, not something that's one and done,” she said. “We can't wait for a crisis or controversy to reach out and develop relationships for the first time.”

Volker shared some ideas for new types of public engagement to “meet people where they are” rather than just holding a meeting and inviting the public to attend. As examples of her aptitude for engagement and collaboration, she recalled the county’s in-depth public engagement campaign that led to the passage of the behavioral health sales tax, which had failed the first time it was on the ballot, and her experience with negotiations in collective bargaining.

Jim Thompson
Jim Thompson

Jim Thompson

Most recent position: City manager of Scottsdale, Arizona since 2017

Other experience: Thompson has worked in city leadership for 33 years, including stints as deputy city manager of Sterling, Colorado, city manager of Bothell, Washington, city manager of Casa Grande, Arizona, and interim director of finance and accounting for Tucson, Arizona.

Education: Bachelor’s in accounting from Indiana University, MBA from Regis University, graduate of several executive leadership programs

What he said: Thompson detailed his experience with many of the initiatives that Larimer County is currently wading through, including landfill operations and diversion programs, affordable and attainable housing, capital improvements for event centers, and finance and budgeting. He’s also dealt with aftermath of natural disasters, including wildfires, landslides and an earthquake.

Budget and finance is his “excitement area,” he said, noting his educational background and experience leading finance departments and teaching related coursework at local universities. He said that when he’s had to make budget cuts over the years, he tried to take a close look at which departments and programs could better absorb those impacts and match revenues with expenses rather than making across-the-board cuts.

County news: 'Recurring negligence': Larimer County files complaint against oil company after fire

He said his top priorities have always been serving the community and taking care of his staff.

“When you walk in the building smiling, you could be having the worst day that you've ever had, but you still have to show up and do a great job and instill that in others,” he said. “(You have to) empower your staff and let them go do amazing things and get out of their way.”

He said his approach to solving complex problems depends on the circumstances, but it’s most important to fully define the problem, understand that no two problems are alike and take accountability for the result.

“The problems end up on my desk,” he said. “… at the end of the day, if it goes wrong, it's me. If it goes right, it's my staff, it's the elected officials, it's others. I've always taken that to heart. … I take responsibility and own an issue.”

Paul Fetherston
Paul Fetherston

Paul Fetherston

Most recent position: Greeley’s deputy city manager for enterprise resources since 2019

Other experience: Fetherston has 29 years of city leadership experience, including six years as deputy city manager of Boulder, where he oversaw enterprise resources, public safety and community building functions. He’s also served as town manager and chief administrative officer for two municipalities in Connecticut, as assistant city manager of Asheville, North Carolina, and as assistant county administrator of Lake County, Illinois.

Education: Bachelor’s in political science from Trinity College, Juris Doctor degree from Western New England University School of Law

What he said: Fetherston focused on his diverse experience, including previous county leadership, in communities throughout the country. He said he’s happy with his job in Greeley, a community going through leadership transition and major population growth, but “the opportunity to contribute is what drives me, and Larimer County is a great opportunity.”

He said the Athenian Oath, a testament to civic responsibility derived from ancient Greece, serves as his daily inspiration. One version of the oath reads in part, “We will leave this city not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was given to us.”

Fetherston shared examples of successful public engagement he’s carried out to solve problems in other communities where he’s worked, including the preservation of valuable open space in a densely populated Connecticut community.

Larimer news: Here are the Republican, Democratic candidates on the primary ballot

“One of the things that I've learned is that you have to find where the energy and the momentum is in the organization and in the community, because you cannot force an organization or community from where it is to where you want it to be,” he said. “You really have to find that synergy and that momentum and identify where to take that energy.”

He added that he would strive as county manager to encourage the county to tell its story and avoid acronyms and “insider baseball” that could obscure that message.

“Sometimes organizations will spend so much time on an issue, they will forget to tell the story about where they started and how they got to where they are,” he said, “and to encourage people in the community to share their stories. Because everybody's story should influence the outcomes, because it will enhance the outcome.”

Larry Dorr
Larry Dorr

Larry Dorr

Most recent position: Deputy city manager and chief financial officer of Westminster since 2020

Other experience: Dorr was finance director of Lakewood, Colorado, for 16 years. He oversaw the city’s downtown redevelopment, the establishment of a new hospital, and transit and sustainability projects.

Education: MBA from University of Colorado Boulder, bachelor’s in economics from University of California Irvine

What he said: Dorr elaborated on some of the accomplishments he’s been a part of in Westminster and Lakewood, such as passing a voter-approved measure for a parks and trails sales tax, reinventing Lakewood’s downtown area, and overseeing transit and diversity, equity and inclusion projects.

He used an example from Lakewood to demonstrate his approach to problem-solving. The community didn’t have enough resources to meet its needs, he said, so he focused first on defining the problem, next on collaboration and compromise, and finally on committing to a solution and following up to make sure it worked.

The solution was a voter-approved sales and use tax to fund the hiring of 30 police officers and improvements to sidewalks, streets, playgrounds and intersections. Dorr said he invested shoe leather to earn buy-in from a “deeply financially conservative” community, holding 26 public meetings as well as a phone survey.

“I would go anywhere I could get an audience,” he said. “I would go to the high school gymnasium, I went to the basement of preschools, anywhere I could talk to folks. … We found that by being inclusive, by being transparent, by describing the problem, and seeking input from all that we built lots of trust and decreased a lot of the skepticism that was present in the public.”

Once the funding was secured, he said it was especially important to keep a watchful eye on implementation and provide stability during the transition period for the police department.

Dorr said his leadership philosophy has evolved over time to include a more social-equity-focused lens that addresses underserved and disadvantaged people in the community. He said he’d apply that lens to projects going forward.

Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Larimer County manager finalists make their pitches to the public