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Littleton council approves contract for new city manager

Former interim leader accepts position and $175,000 salary


After nearly a year, Littleton's search for a city manager is over.

Mark Relph, who has been filling the role on an interim basis since July, began serving as the permanent manager on May 17, following a 6-1 vote of the city council the night before.

A motion to draft a contract for Relph's appointment as city manager was approved on a 4-3 vote earlier this month over opposition from councilmembers Debbie Brinkman, Bill Hopping and Phil Cernanec, who favored following through with a recruitment process and interviewing other candidates for the role.

In the end, only Brinkman voted against Relph, although the final vote came after a successful motion by Cernanec to drop the salary to $175,000 from $188,057 and cut out a moving allowance of up to $10,000 if he opted to move to Littleton from Arvada, where he currently lives. Relph's contract also includes a $525-per-month vehicle allowance.

The city manager position opened when council fired Michael Penny in June 2016.

Brinkman, Hopping and Councilmember Jerry Valdes joined Cernanec in voting to reduce the salary, which is about $3,000 more than Penny's salary in his final year.

“I consider it very rich for someone who does not have city manager experience,” Cernanec said.

Councilmember Peggy Cole countered that Relph, 60, has experience as a city manager due to serving in the interim position.

“I'm not sure what in the world Mark has been up to for the last 10 month if he hasn't been the city manager,” she said.

Councilmember Doug Clark, one of Relph's proponents on the council, said that he was in “sticker shock” over the salary but said the city needs to offer a competitive salary to fill the role.

The city council of neighboring Centennial recently approved a $200,000 annual salary for its new city manager.

Relph, then the city's public works director, was made interim manager shortly after Penny was fired. The city spent that time conducting a nationwide search for a replacement, paying an executive recruitment firm to find and vet candidates, but the process was fraught with complications.

After the council identified a selection of finalists for the position, several dropped out, and the city interviewed three potential candidates in February, choosing none of them.

When the search began, Relph said that he was not interested in the job. When a second search got underway after the first round of interviews did not produce a city manager, he applied, saying a mistaken belief by city officials that the manager is required by charter to live in Littleton kept him out of the running before. He dropped out of the second round of applications, citing concerns about entering a competitive interview process.

His candidacy was reinvigorated at a late April council study session, with Clark pushing for the council to offer Relph a contract, joined by Mayor Bruce Beckman, Valdes and Cole. At the next regular meeting, the council voted 4-3 in favor of offering Relph the job. The four who voted to immediately offer the job to Relph were the same councilmembers who voted to oust Penny.

Relph said that his not residing in Littleton should not lead to doubts about his commitment.

“When I dedicate myself to anything, I'm all in,” he said.

Kent Bagley, a Littleton resident and a former Regional Transportation District director, cautioned the council in public comment May 16 that forgoing the process of interviewing multiple candidates was a bad idea.

“This is not personal,” he said. “This is not about a person, it's about flawed process.”


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