The Board of County Commissioners named current assistant county manager Scott Vargo as the replacement for long-time county manager Gary Martinez, who will retire at the end of June.
The commissioners made the hire official this past Saturday, Feb. 20, following a swift process that started with Martinez’s announcement at the end of January. Formal interviews were held with two internal applicants, Vargo and fellow assistant county manager Thad Noll, the morning of Friday, Feb. 19, and a decision made and the candidates informed by the afternoon.
Vargoleft on a previously planned vacation to Florida with one of his two daughters Saturday, which soon became a celebratory trip. Reached by phone while away, he called receiving the news of landing the position like winning the big one.
“I joked that this is like my Super Bowl,” he said, “and now I’m headed to Disney World. I am extremely excited and just really looking forward to the opportunity to lead such a great organization and very happy to be working for the Board of County Commissioners.”
“The level of collaboration that people in Summit County are accustomed to is a real strength of Scott’s. ... And man, does he do his homework.”County Commissioner Thomas Davidson
He has been with the county government in various capacities since 1999, when he took the position of director of human resources. In that role, he served the organization’s more than 500 employees, establishing existing pay and benefits programs including, notably, negotiating its current health-care plan.
In 2004, Vargo, a Frisco resident, was promoted to his present position of assistant county manager and now into his 12th year has paid particular attention to the departments of public health, human services as well as the 911 call center and ambulance services. He took the lead, for example, onhelping coordinate the area’s emergency response system between the local fire districts and ambulances, improving communication, efficiency and also saving the county money. He also helped with the South Branch Library relocation project to Harris Street in Breckenridge.
“All of those opportunities to partner and collaborate with others,” he said, “I think that was a great opportunity for me understand maybe how these other organizations operate, and how we as the county can work together to make the situation better. (We want) to come up with projects at the end of the day that are going to be a great benefit to the community.”
The commissioners said they are thankful to transition so seamlessly from Martinez, who has been in the role since 2007 following an earlier 15-year stretch as Breckenridge town manager, to another so uniquely qualified individual.
“Scott has an incredible ability to take very complex topics and challenges that many different entities are involved in and figure out a pathway forward that works for all,” said Commissioner Thomas Davidson. “The level of collaboration that people in Summit County are accustomed to is a real strength of Scott’s. He is incredibly woven into the community and knows Summit County and the people of Summit County quite well. And man, does he do his homework.”
Even so, challenges lie ahead for the county and for its new county manager come July. Solving the predicaments of affordable housing for the local workforce, driving down the cost of health care and issues surrounding early child care are those Davidson pointed to as the most substantial facing the county today and into the future. Vargo, he noted, has been closely tied to each of them during his tenure.
“If you think about big three that challenge local working families,” said Davidson, “he has been intimately involved for a number of years representing Summit County government. And he’s really kind of moved the needle on all three of them.”
Vargo has served on various commissions and boards through the years, in this case including those of Early Childhood Options/Head Start and the CARE Council. For the latter, he functioned as the person who oversaw and negotiated support for the Summit Community Care Clinic in Frisco, which has served a medically underserved population in the county since 1993.
“We’re trying to come up with, ‘How can we reduce overall cost of care within Summit County and affect pricing?’” he said of the ongoing regional health-care dilemma. “I think we might make some headway in those areas and hopefully provide some relief for the folks that are living in Summit County.
“In terms of housing,” he added, “certainly the county is very much involved in trying to address that issue. The availability of workforce housing is not going to go away overnight. We know that, we understand that it’s going to have to be a strong, concerted effort.”
He originally moved to Colorado from Minnesota in 1994 with his then-fiancée-now-wife Jody shortly after completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Minnesota. He said he has learned plenty from his education, his previous positions with the county as well as from his predecessor that will help inform his decision-making in the new role.
Although Vargo said his style of management is slightly different from Martinez’s, he doesn’t anticipate any radical shifts in the delivery of services for residents or how county business is conducted. It will still remain about the people.
“Interpersonal interaction and understanding why people are doing what they’re doing, at least to some limited degree, is an incredible benefit as you try to lead an organization, or lead a group, or lead a project for that matter,” said Vargo. “What makes people tick and why maybe they do what they do was certainly invaluable to me.”