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New Mancos mayor ready to shoulder responsibility
By Suzanne Strazza
“Literally, one minute I was resigning as a town board trustee, the next, they were addressing me as ‘Your Honor’ – it was weird.”
That is how Michele Black describes suddenly becoming mayor of Mancos, Colo.
We are sitting in Becky’s Barbershop in downtown Mancos, watching my son get his first real haircut and talking about Black’s new political position.
Michele Black is a long-time resident of Mancos, having lived in her current neighborhood in town for the past 22 years. She works in town, walks her dogs in town and has played softball here for years. She is friendly, open and has a great laugh. In other words, she seems approachable to people of all walks of life – an attribute valuable in her position.
Black has served as a trustee on the Mancos Town Board since 2000. Five years ago, she was elected by her peers as mayor pro tem behind Greg Rath. In March, Rath told her that he would be leaving Mancos and therefore vacating his seat.
“I was nervous,” Black recalls. “I was really excited for Greg – he needed a change in his life. But I was nervous.” She adds, “Actually it was closer to panic than nervous.
“In the 113-year history of the town of Mancos, I was to be the first female mayor. That’s a large responsibility.”
But she was mayor pro tem, I note; she knew that this might happen.
“Yes, but it wasn’t a given. The law was changed last year creating more options in this situation. The board could have picked any of the six of us to do the job, or chosen someone else from town, or they could even have held a special election.”
But Black was chosen and she is excited. How has it been thus far?
“Not too bad, although at times overwhelming. At first it was great, then the responsibilities and duties started setting in and the learning curve really took off – it’s super steep right now.”
On of the difficult issues that Black has already had to deal with since taking office at the end of April is that Town Administrator Tom Glover has resigned and will be moving on to the Northwest.
“It was sad. It was really hard. Tom and I came in at the same time – I was brand new on the board when we hired him. We’ve seen a lot of growth and been through a lot of change together.”
Black pauses, then adds, “We were already faced with a lot this summer — this is one more big thing to deal with.”
What other things are on the table for the summer?
“We have two grants: one to complete Phase 2 on the Boyle Park project and another to replace the town sewer line. We’ve also finished a wastewater treatment plant study and need to begin the process of deciding how to update the plant and begin looking for grants to do so.”
Also, the town had received an additional $20,000 for improving the community center — putting in range hoods, a dance floor [in order to be able to offer classes] and carpeting. “This is in the works now and almost completed,” Black says.
“Now, on top of it all, we have to look at hiring a replacement for [Glover] and this is a daunting task… He has assembled a great staff who all work well with him and each other. We will need to find someone who can do the same or else we will be faced with staff turnover.”
I ask what aspects of Rath’s legacy she wants to continue.
She thinks for a moment, and then says, “I think that Mayor Rath moved both the town board and the staff into the 21st Century and I would like to keep it that way. Our current staff is very professional and the board, very invested. It’s good.”
What, if anything, of Rath’s legacy will she change?
“I attended a meeting in Cortez with representation from the tribe, the cities of Cortez, Dolores and Mancos, the sheriff and other agencies. The discussion focused on common barriers and strengths towards improved economic development. I would like to move forward with this discussion.”
Black is uncertain how long she wants to remain mayor.
“I have one year in this position until the next election. Right now I don’t know what I’ll do. By the time the election rolls around, I will have been in public office in some capacity for eight years. There will be five open board seats so it would be good to see some continuity, but it also depends on who’s coming out of the woodwork to participate in the running. If there is someone who is more qualified than I am to do this job, then they should run.”
And what would Black like people to know about her?
“I may not be a local in the oldtimers’ sense. I was born in Cortez, not Mancos, but this is my home and I do have a vested interest in this town.”
Becky, cutting my son’s hair, echoes that sentiment. “She is very devoted to Mancos,” she says.