Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Parker manages myriad projects, asks tough questions

From regionalizing services to moving a baseball field to briefing the mayor on the 1872 mining act, Susan Parker has become an expert on many issues as the town manager of Crested Butte, Colorado.

Susan Parker

The 1997 La Follette grad is responsible for the overall management and provision of public services to Crested Butte residents and visitors. "I prepare information for town council meetings and ensure policy directives are carried out," Parker says. "I also discuss issues or problems with residents, present and manage the town budget, facilitate capital improvements, and collaborate with local, state and federal agencies."

The position makes her a "jack of all trades," she says. Some of her larger projects include regionalizing 911 emergency call centers with 13 agencies and regionalizing animal control. She traveled to Washington, D.C., and brief Crested Butte's mayor on efforts to reform the federal 1872 mining law. She also negotiated an inter-governmental agreement with a school district that involved a land transfer and the relocation of a Babe Ruth baseball field.

In managing all these decisions and projects, Parker draws on her La Follette public affairs training. "The best take-away for me from La Follette was 'learning' which questions to ask," she says. "As a manager I rarely conduct analysis anymore, but I can ask the hard questions."

Parker has shared some of those questions and a few answers in several presentations she has been invited to give. In June, she spoke at the Colorado Municipal League on linking public opinion surveys to action. "What does it really mean?" she asked her audience. In March she presented at the Conservation Excellence conference on "'14 Landowners, $5 Million and 5 Months To Close?' 'No Problem.'" In August 2010, invited by Crested Butte's Public Policy Forum, she explored "The Cannabis Conundrum: The Science and Politics of America's Most Controversial Plant."

Parker came to La Follette after graduating from Beloit College in 1994 to continue her education in public administration. The years were busy — she traveled to Madison from Beloit every day while caring for two young children and working for National Louis University, which has a campus in Beloit. Her son, Shane Harris, is now a senior at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and her daughter, Morgan Harris, is a sophomore at Winona State University in Minnesota.

Although Parker almost never has to run a T-test now, she did find the quantitative skills she learned useful early on in her career. "I used those skills to privatize refuse and recycling collection and to increase revenues by increasing efficiencies," she says.

After graduating, she interned in the city manager's office in Glendale, Arizona, then worked for two years as the first city administrator in Elroy, Wisconsin. From there she headed to Reno, Nevada, as an assistant to the city manager. She arrived in Crested Butte in 2006. "I followed my career path that I envisioned when I enrolled at La Follette," Parker says. "I just didn't know where I would be located. I hope to work internationally when I retire, doing the same work."