By the time you read this, Lynn Black will have left her office on the third floor of the Miramonte Building for the last time. Having served as county administrator for the last 24 years, Black announced her retirement last year. Her last day was Friday.
A public servant fiercely devoted to her staff and the people of San Miguel County, Black’s service has been marked by fiscal practicality, wise policy-making and smart planning. None of which, she is quick to say, would have been possible without county staff.
“I don’t do all these things by myself,” she said. “We have the most excellent employees.”
John Huebner now works in the county planning department, but was first employed as chief deputy clerk to the board, reporting to directly to Black. He was effusive in his praise for his former boss.
“She was the best boss I ever had,” Huebner said. “She respected us and fought for employees during the recession. County government is made up of people and she was the glue.”
Former county planning director Mike Rozycki beat Black to retirement by a handful of months. Reached at his lakeside home in Minnesota Friday, he concurred with Huebner’s view of Black’s skills as a manager.
“She created and maintained an esprit de corps you don’t often see,” he said. “She didn’t get in people’s way. She was exceptional in that regard.
“Lynn always had staff’s back, and she had the balls to make the tough calls.”
He reflected on the “special relationship” she shared with Rozycki and then-county attorney Steve Zwick.
“We were the three amigos,” Rozycki said.
It’s no easy task getting Black to talk about herself, but when it comes to county staff, she expressed admiration and loyalty. Keeping staff employed during the recession is a particular point of pride.
“We did well during the recession,” she said. “We made it through pretty well. (Former county finance director) Gordon Glockson left us in good shape. It was hard on some employees, but getting through those years we did well.”
During her tenure, Black can point to a long list of accomplishments.
Along with former commissioners Jim Craft, Anna Zivian and Leslie Sherlock, the county acquired and created the Applebaugh property down valley, which is now the county park.
The Gold Run housing project, a mix of single-family homes, duplexes and studios in Telluride’s east end, was “a really good project,” she said.
“It was done during the recession, so it kept people employed.”
The project used numerous contractors and was a “stellar partnership with the Town of Telluride.” The county provided the land for that project.
Black also was behind county acquisition of several parcels of land that either have been or will be used for housing.
“I’ve had fun land banking,” she said, enumerating parcels for housing in Norwood, and the Pathfinder gravel pit south of Telluride along Highway 145 near San Bernardo that, once gravel operations have been exhausted, will become land for affordable housing.
She didn’t always agree with fellow staff on projects, but has no problem admitting being wrong. Former county open space director Linda Luther had long eyed the historic Placerville Schoolhouse as a good county project for public use. Black vehemently disagreed with Luther, calling the then-dilapidated building a “money pit.”
“Linda did it anyway and it’s the best thing ever,” Black admitted. In fact, Black’s retirement bash Friday night took place in the schoolhouse.
Also on her list of accomplishments are the Lawson Hill underpass, which was spearheaded by another former county employee Kari Distefano (current Rico town manager), the creation of what she called “the leading edge” on crafting marijuana regulations for the county, being part of the establishment of SMART — the region’s new transportation authority — and a day-long oil and gas class for county employees. The class was taught by oil and gas representatives, Forest Service and BLM managers, and a professor of geology who explained why, in geological terms, there were gas and oil reserves in the county’s west end.
“That was really well done,” she said. “We figured out where the county could come into play (to create regulations). It was a really interesting day.”
And, in what is probably the most drawn-out project of her career as county administrator, she’s leaving the completion of bringing broadband to the county to her successor, Mike Bordogna.
“That’s something I’ve been working on since 1998,” she said. “You can see the infrastructure going in, and Norwood will be lit up soon.”
So what’s next for the retiring county administrator? According to her retirement party invite, that’s easy. Black will morph into her alter ego of “Silver-haired, political activist warrior. My sister added the warrior,” Black said.
County Commissioner Hilary Cooper wished Black well at a Thursday gathering for county employees snacking on poodle-shaped cake (more on that in a bit) and root beer floats.
“As much as we’ll miss her, if retirement will free her up for more poodle shows and political rallies, the world will be a better place,” Cooper said.
Black, free of the ethical constraints of her job (“We can support issues, but not individuals,” she explained), can now voice her views on politics, one of her passions.
But what she really loves are poodles. She’s been showing and breeding the curly haired miniature dogs for years and is now ready to take her involvement to the next level. She’s contemplating purchasing an RV so she can easily travel with her beloved pooches to dog shows around the country, but has no plans to leave her Down Valley home of nearly 30 years.
The Oregon native moved to Telluride in 1990 after making annual visits to visit her sister, Lee Black Zeller, who had moved here in 1979 with her husband, the late Dennis Zeller.
“So, yes, I moved here to be close to my sister,” she said with a laugh. “And living down the road from each other makes Sunday dinners easier.”
She started with the county in 1995 after a stint working for the late Andy Hanley.
She leaves behind her a fine legacy in county government, said County Xommissioner Lance Waring.
“Over 24 years, Lynn Black took San Miguel County to the next level and then to the next step beyond.”