MONTROSE – Jesse Smith moved to Montrose to retire, but it just didn’t stick. Instead, at age 70, Smith is going back to work as Montrose County’s new county administrator.
“I was bored and wanted to get back in and make a contribution and see if I couldn’t do something meaningful,” he said. “You can only play so much golf.”
Smith and his wife Sandra moved to Montrose in the summer of 2007 after he retired as assistant county manager for Garfield County. It was his third time to retire. For his new position, Smith was selected from almost 60 applicants, according to the county.
Smith brings a wealth of experience to the job after eight years as assistant county manager for Garfield County. He holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in management and is just short his dissertation for a doctorate in education and management.
While at Garfield County, Smith was highly involved in the development of oil and gas leases. He said plans to build a uranium mill in Paradox Valley will be a very long process, even though Montrose County has approved a special use permit for the proposed mill.
“We need energy as a country, but it has to be done in a responsible, economically feasible way,” he said.
Since he’s been in Montrose, Smith has not stayed on the sidelines; he is well versed in county issues. His job doesn’t officially start until January, but Smith has been attending county meetings and has done consulting work for the county as its government representative for energy issues, including oil, gas and uranium.
Another county issue Smith has kept up with is the county’s legal dispute with JetAway Aviation over airport contracts.
“With JetAway there have been five lawsuits,” he said. “The county has won three of them with two still pending. Probably, from the looks of things, the county will prevail.”
Avoiding future problems also concerns Smith, particularly impending growth on the Western Slope. He said Montrose needs a long range strategic plan so the county can manage future growth.
“It will see pretty serious growth and we want to make sure it happens the way we want it to happen, and not get drug along by it,” he said.
The county also needs a long-term financial plan, Smith said.
“We’re still looking at a couple more rough years, but we’re being proactive,” he said.
Also looking to the future, Smith said he told county commissioners he hopes to replace himself in three years’ time.
“Any manager, if they’re doing what they should do, should be replacing themselves in three years so they can grow and those under them can grow,” he said.
That means an emphasis on professional development for staff members and keeping promotions in house, he said.
County commissioner Gary Ellis said Smith will be good for the job and the county.
“Mr. Smith demonstrates the ability to openly interact and communicate with different facets of the community to promote an open and cohesive approach to county management,” he said.
The Smiths have one daughter, Jessica, who just got married and lives in Boulder. He said the decision to move to Montrose was based mostly on the people here, whom he described as “just down home, honest type people.
“We love the openness of the valley with the amount of sun it gets, yet with snowcapped mountains all around. Also the cleanliness of Montrose, the wide streets where people take care of their yards and cars. We couldn’t find anything we were missing, even to drive to Grand Junction for.”
Smith says he loves to play golf, and likes to hunt and fish, another reason for moving to this area. But after his tenure with the county is up, he and his wife plan to see the more of the outside world.
“That’s one of the things we want to gear up for the next time around, to do a lot more traveling,” he said.