With a month left before the head of the Grand County’s Community and Economic Development Department officially resigns his position, elected officials and the council administrator, who oversees the department, are looking to restructure the role to narrow its focus to community development while expanding the Moab Area Travel Council to take on the economic development piece.
The idea was brought to the council during a meeting Tuesday, June 30 by Grand County Council Administrator Chris Baird, who asked the council about the prospect of moving some duties currently under the purview of Zacharia Levine, who recently announced he would resign Aug. 1, under the office currently overseen by Elaine Gizler.
The change would mean Gizler and the travel council’s focus would shift to bolstering economic diversification in Moab, which is an ongoing effort the county and city have both been engaged previously, but which is now accelerating as COVID-19 exposes the vast weaknesses in the economy’s singular focus on tourism.
Restructuring would not be just some shell game, according to Baird, Levine and Gizler, who all supported the plan and ultimately sold the council on it. Moving economic development into a department separate from community development, which would oversee planning, zoning, building inspections and trails, could free up employee capacity.
“Pulling economic development out of [the [Community and Economic Development Department] is appropriate inasmuch as it creates more capacity for an individual to focus on economic development,” Levine said. “I don’t think it’s vital as a function of splitting it off planning. Land use planning and economic development are indeed intimately connected.”
Baird said that there would be many organizational benefits of moving economic development responsibilities into the travel council’s office and making other changes to the county’s organizational chart would free up a smaller number of department heads to focus on strategic thinking rather than getting caught up in the weeds of policy implementation, which would fall on individuals further down the organizational structure.
“It falls on Mallory and I at this point to act as department heads, essentially coordinating not only all these divisions but all of them across the whole county, and I think that a big part of the reason why our organizational structure is so inefficient and out of line with best practice is that department heads have been resistant, quite frankly, to establish a functional model and best practice version of an organizational structure,” Baird said.
Baird went on to say it would be “tough to make changes like this” but that they “needed to be made” and the county could no longer afford to have a very “flat” organizational structure where a large number of leadership roles report to his office, meaning he or anyone else in the role is “always in the weeds” and spending time on the details of policy implementation without having time for higher-order planning to enact the council’s strategic vision for the county.
Some council members, including Curtis Wells, initially expressed concern that Gizler and her office, which is currently oriented strictly toward supporting and bolstering tourism, might have trouble pivoting to the broader role of economic development.
The council eventually reached a shared understanding that if any office at the county could take on the role in lieu of Levine, Gizler’s was the most appropriate and best prepared for such duties.
Gizler expressed excitement at the prospect of gaining an expanded set of responsibilities and expounded to the council on her vision for working toward a more diversified economy in Moab.
“I think we could begin almost immediately,” Gizler said. “Especially since [Levine] is on until the beginning of August, [we can] work with him on projects he’s worked on so that there could be an even smoother transition to bringing that department over to the travel council.”
Grand County Human Resources Director Renee Baker vouched for Gizler’s ability to take on the expanded role. “I have no doubt that [Gizler] will do a great job in this role,” Baker said.
The council voted 5-2 to have Baird move forward with making job description and pay grade changes to the role. Wells and Council Member Rory Paxman voted against the plan.