The Montezuma County extension office advisory committee plans to advertise through Colorado State University for a director to replace Tom Hooten.
At a meeting on Tuesday Jan. 23, the committee reviewed a draft job description suggested by La Plata County extension agent Darrin Parmenter, who was appointed by CSU earlier this month to supervise the Montezuma County office and act as a liaison between it and the advisory committee. Committee members hope to put it on the CSU website by spring, in the hope of finding a director sometime this year. If a replacement is found, Hooten will likely stay on the county payroll as an extension agent specializing in agriculture and horticulture, but the director will oversee activities in the office and the 4-H program.
Several committee members said they’ve been hoping for a new extension director since Jan Sennhenn retired about five years ago, leaving Hooten the only CSU agent in the office. But the issue has gained greater urgency after several months of conflict between the office, the Montezuma County fair board and the commissioner-appointed advisory committee, which started when the commissioners threatened to defund the office over what they called mishandling of the county fair.
Some committee members said that conflict was just the latest symptom of problems in the extension office that stretch back to Sennhenn’s retirement, when CSU refused to hire a new director because of budget cuts and appointed Hooten to the position instead. Now, Parmenter said CSU has offered to pay the entire salary of a director for two years, an offer he said was unprecedented during his time as an extension agent. Normally the county pays part of each extension agent’s salary.
Several committee members said they believed this new position would be a lifesaver for the extension office.
“If something ain’t working, don’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results,” Don Bane said. “Sometimes you’ve got to change.”
The draft job description, which is based on one created for the Moffat County extension office, emphasizes leadership experience and skills in public speaking and office management, among other things.
The advisory committee approved of most things in the description, but they suggested some language be changed to attract a wider field of applicants.
Parmenter said he believes many of the extension office’s problems, which he said include disorganization and a lack of communication with the public, could be solved if there were more than one extension agent. He recommended the county ask for a position that will stay in place longer than two years.
“Your population in Montezuma County is going to be 30,000 people relatively soon,” he said. “Can you really justify one agent?”
He said he believes CSU’s offer to pay two years of the director’s salary is a sign they will be open to other requests from Montezuma County.
The committee plans to bring the draft vacancy announcement, along with a tentative timeline for the hire, before the board of county commissioners for final approval. They put forward April 1 as a possible hiring date, but Parmenter said he thought that was overly optimistic.
In the meantime, Hooten will remain the director until a replacement is found. Parmenter said he has suggested Hooten and 4-H coordinator Andrea Jeter work on several goals during the next few months, such as keeping an up-to-date calendar and tracking their office hours and site visits.
Hooten said he has mixed feelings about the prospect of stepping down as director, but he said he approves of the way CSU and the county are handling the search so far.
“There’s still a lot of uncertainty ... but things are moving in a positive direction,” he said.