John Scarffe, Nederland. The last of the three finalists selected for Nederland Town administrator came for interviews on Saturday, June 3, 2017. Therron Dieckmann was interviewed by the Town staff department heads beginning at 3 p.m., followed by an interview with the Nederland Board of Trustees at 3:30 p.m.
Deickmann met with five members of the public and three Trustees during an open forum for the public to meet the candidate and ask questions beginning at about 4:30 p.m. Two other finalists, C. Michael Foote and Karen Gerrity, met with staff, Trustees and the public on May 22.
Therron Wade Dieckmann lives in Longmont, Colorado, and has been splitting his time between there and Vista, California. He earned a master’s degree in sports management from Western Illinois University and a bachelor’s degree in forestry from the University of Illinois.
Dieckmann serves as director of recreation and community services for the City of Vista, California, where he has been since 2016. He oversees an $8.2 million operating budget, administrative support to six direct reports, 30 full-time and 300 part-time employees and reports to the City manager and City Council, according to his resume.
From 2015 to 2016, he was deputy director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Boulder, where he supervised 125 full-time and more than 600 part-time employees. He was director of Parks and Recreation for the North of the River Recreation and Park District in Bakersfield, California, from 2012 to 2015, executive director of the Ottawa Recreation Commission in Ottawa, Kansas, from 2007 to 2012, and recreation supervisor for the City of Hannibal in Missouri from 2004 to 2007.
Dieckmann told the Trustees and public that he has been in parks and recreation for 15 to 20 years. In California, he lived 30 minutes from the mountains and the ocean and recently has been commuting halfway across the country from Longmont to California. He spent time in Boulder, loves Colorado and wants to be here, so he decided to move his family back to Longmont and raise his kids here. Their school is within walking distance.
Previously, it has been about building his career, and he always considered progressing to town administrator, the next step for him. In response to a question, Dieckmann said he is the world’s finest snow driver, since he was raised in rural, central Illinois and is familiar with gravel and country roads.
Dieckmann was in Boulder for a year and was chosen from 150 applicants for the Parks and Recreation deputy director position, but it was not the right fit for him, because he was looking for a director or town administrator position.
Former Trustee Randy Lee said Dieckmann’s resume told him that he was a great parks and recreation director, but it didn’t tell him what kind of town administrator he would make. He asked him to bridge the gap.
Dieckmann said it is not uncommon for a parks and recreation director to be considered for a town administrator. He covers a broad spectrum of issues in his day-to-day work, deals with elected boards and councils and works on capital projects and maintenance.
“I’m very well prepared for this type of position. I have been in a leadership position responsible for several functions like budgets, personnel, finances, facilities, grant writing, timelines and deadlines for programs,” Dieckmann said.
He has dealt with personnel issues from recruitment and hiring to evaluations, terminations, professional development and mentoring and has been the public front-facing person who gives answers to the board or the public. He has been responsible for a 125-person staff and a budget as large as Nederland’s.
Lee asked if he has had to deal with a town that is underfunded and understaffed with contentious issues and a divided community or board. Dieckmann said he has the scope of experience that will translate into that type of situation.
“When you have been in public service for 20 years, you develop a thick skin and have to deal with contentious issues, but it might get more passionate in some communities,” Dieckmann said. He will be a good listener and show respect for the thoughts of others.
“You can differ in opinions with someone and do that civilly. If the community has constant concerns, we might have to look at how we’ve been handling those, and is there something different we can do,” Dieckmann said.
“You aren’t going to change the way people are. You have to navigate through issues and listen,” Dieckmann said. He can’t promise that everything people want will be given to them, but he can give honest feedback and respect their right to have their opinion.
“You can’t control the past, but you can control how you move forward. I’ve been around a lot of different places, and I’m well-versed in dealing with a diverse group of people who have unique ideas.”
Town Clerk LauraJane Baur said that he will be living in Longmont but will be needed here. Dieckmann said he has been in a situation where he has two scheduled meetings a month, special meetings, many other commissions, the botanical garden, historic sites, programs and special events on evenings and weekends.
“I’m not unfamiliar with making myself available,” Dieckmann said. He is responsible for an outdoor amphitheater, which is a 2,000-seat venue, or maybe he has a softball game, and he tries to be there. He doesn’t consider a 45-minute commute to be that big, because in Southern California he had a 40-minute commute.
My kids love it there in Longmont. I want my kids to be in a stable situation and close to family and friends, and I decided Colorado is it,” Dieckmann said.
Baumhover said this position often is a stepping stone for other positions. The Town invests in training and the time for someone to get to the know community. Then they leave, and it’s frustrating. Lee added that every position in his past has been strategic, so is there a step beyond this?
Dieckmann answered that what it comes down to is a decision about finances or quality of life. “I’m not looking for a stepping stone. If I wanted status and money at a high level, I’d stay put, and they treat me well. It is a strategic move.”
In the past, he has been in more progressively responsible positions. “I was looking to grow. I’ve been there and done that, but I’m doing this because we decided Colorado is the place to be,” he said.
His youngest daughter is in kindergarten and his other daughter is in second grade. He knows he does well under pressure because he delivered his second daughter. “The financial element is a concern, but we’ve run those numbers. It would be a calculated risk and taking a new position to broaden my experience but taking less money.”
Dieckmann said he would never close the door on moving to Nederland. Under the ideal situation, town administrators live in the community they serve, but they don’t necessarily have to live in the community. It wouldn’t get in the way of his responsibilities, and it’s not likely he would move in the short term, because they’ve found a place where they are really happy.
Baumhover asked if he had ever worked with the hippy community. Nederland does not have a lot of racial diversity, but it does have philosophical and cultural diversity, and sometimes people can’t get past that.
Dieckmann said that is not an issue for him, and he has been around coast to coast and broadened his perspective. “I’m not fresh off the farm. They absolutely have people like that in southern California.
Personalities are different, but you get that anywhere. I did work in Boulder for a while.”
Within the first 30 to 90 days on the job, Dieckmann would get to know the Board, elected officials and staff by going for coffee or having working meetings hiking on the trails. He would establish lines of communications and get to know one another.
He also would deal with existing irons in the fire that need immediate attention and expand beyond the town to connect with the region. “I’ve done it over and over again and see that as the foundation.”
Dieckmann also would address hot iron issues or emergencies that come up. In the first two weeks in his director job, he had to deal with a 500-year flood. He felt like he worked for FEMA for the next six months, but it galvanized working with his staff and learning how to mitigate the situation.
In the first year as Town administrator, he would look at the Board’s specific goals and see how to move forward. It’s been awhile since formal studies have been done here such as economic studies, and he would implement those between one to five years on the job.
“You have a nice community here,” Dieckmann said. “Don’t let some of the turmoil in the past discourage you from moving forward. We can build on the good things the former Town administrator established.”
(Originally published in the June 8, 2017 print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)