Establishing roots in the community through collaboration
[ By Kendra Walker ]
Following an exciting phone call from Mt. Crested Butte mayor Janet Farmer, Isa Reeb made the move to the valley from Denver in just three days, eager to begin her new role as Mt. Crested Butte town manager. Having started at the beginning of this month, Isa is learning the ropes of the town and settling into her new role. The Crested Butte News recently chatted with Isa to learn more about her, her plans for Mt. Crested Butte and her goals for the town’s future. Get to know Isa:
Where are you from?
I’m originally from Wisconsin – I grew up in a small town of 270 people. I’ve lived in Denver for the last 16 years.
What’s your background?
I went to the University of Minneapolis-Twin Cities for undergraduate and I got a bachelor’s degree in architecture. I worked as an architect for two years and decided I wanted to go to graduate school, so in 2004 I came to Denver for graduate school where I earned master’s in both architecture and urban design.
I really wanted to focus on broader thinking about place-making and what makes a place what it is – from transportation to land use to parks and open space. That led me into practicing urban design and urban planning in 2007. At that time early in my career, during the recession, I jumped right into leading really complex projects and establishing relationships with municipalities struggling with growth. That role morphed organically into establishing these long-term relationships working on large-scale projects that span across departments within a staff. That allowed me to become an extension of staff and teach them how to work and utilize each other’s expertise.
My longest engagement was four and a half years within the economic development arm in St. Louis. There was a complex $2 billion project coming into a neighborhood there, and there was concern about the impact it would have on residents. We really needed to focus on what’s best for the community rather than just the economic development side, not just the physical structure but the social structure. The St. Louis Project Connect was extremely successful, and they ended up establishing the project as its own city department. I encouraged them to think long-term about how the city functions interdepartmentally. I helped them with workload assessment, discussion around roles and responsibilities and implementation mechanisms. I’ve done similar things – mostly project based – in Calgary, San Diego and Denver as well.
That led me into my own practice for the last few years where I’ve continued that consulting work.
What appealed to you about the Mt. Crested Butte town manager position and moving to the Gunnison Valley?
I realized during my time consulting that I really missed being on the inside, being in a place, around that collaboration and long-term community. With the town manager position, I thought, “Yes, that’s it. That’s exactly what I want.” Essentially most of the work I was doing was so similar to the town manager position, and interestingly enough a lot of my old colleagues had suggested I look at city manager roles. My nickname is “The Glue” because I’m the glue that holds everybody together, I’m everybody’s cheerleader to say, “You’ve got this, we can work as a team to get this done.” That morphs really well into this new role for me as town manager.
Also, my fiancé Michael went to Western and lived in the Gunnison Valley for a decade. We were coming here all the time anyways and thought, why don’t we just move here? We wanted to be more connected to nature and we’re so excited to be back in the valley.
What are some opportunities you see for the town of Mt. CB?
Coordination of the valley is the biggest piece of this. Everybody’s done such a good job already. It’s important to me to establish that open communication and sense of collaboration, in sharing funding and resources to be more efficient but also more effective.
Affordable housing is a big issue on my agenda, but we have to work together. We need to have a clear strategy laid out with strategic planning across the valley, to be focused on what’s best for this community and how to get the people who work here to also be able to live here.
Affordable housing is so closely tied to transportation – transit, biking and pedestrian access. But then you can’t disconnect any one of these issues; it’s not just about affordable housing and transportation. It’s also about services, land use, service delivery, community resources and economic development.
I’m also a conservationist at heart. I want to make sure we preserve the natural beauty of this place while continuing to grow the community as the community wants to grow.
But how we tackle all of that, I don’t know yet. I’m asking the questions right now – what are things that have worked successfully in the past and how to move forward in a more sustainable way? How do we preserve our natural resources? I’m thinking about our impact on the community and our impact on the climate.
Right now I’m in sponge mode, sucking up all the info. Everybody’s got great ideas, so many people have been here for so long. It was a major selling point to come here when I saw how much collaboration was already in place. The initial groundwork has been laid out and it’s really about continuing that work and thinking about what’s best for the community and for the valley. So much good work has taken place, and I’ll continue supporting that work and continue bringing people together. It takes a village.
What are your thoughts on how the town and county have handled the COVID pandemic this past year? How do you plan to proceed moving forward?
COVID has brought this new wave of innovation and thinking in, “How do we get this done together?” We have some great county leaders doing an incredible job, and I’ll defer to their recommendations moving forward. They’ve done such a great job managing everything, especially the vaccinations have been amazing.
I also have a soft spot in my heart around the mental health conversations around this. I’d like to keep building on that. I appreciate the county’s work and look forward to continuing those conversations and building on that legacy.
What activities do you enjoy outside of work?
Michael and I like to bike and hike and kayak and ski and snowshoe and stand up paddleboard – all the things. As soon as we can, we’ll be out there on our mountain bikes.
I moved here because it’s beautiful and amazing and that connection to nature is important to me. I grew up in a small town, and that connection to nature is engrained in me. I’m a bike commuter, I haven’t owned a car in 10 years. We love it here and that we can get back to the basics.
We also have two cats, Walter and London, and they are like children to us. They are our entertainment and have been our saviors during COVID.
I’m really excited to be here and really thankful I have this opportunity to be part of the community. A big part of my agenda – professional and personal – is to establish roots here and I want to be a part of this community.