Bluff hires town manager

The town of Bluff has hired a town manager while continuing to work with the joint-owners of the recently purchased Cooperative Cultural Center.

At their May 23 special meeting, the Bluff Town Council finalized their contract with their first Town Manager Erin Richards.

Richards has spent the past year working part-time for the town on various projects and began working full-time as Town Manager on May 9.

Bluff Mayor Ann Leppanen joined the Red Rock Morning Show on Wednesday, May 18 to discuss the latest in Bluff. Leppanen shared praise of Richards.

“She has the skill set I definitely lack, which is looking at budgets and looking at numbers. She’s an excellent communicator. We are super excited.”

The council unanimously approved the contract with Richards after advertising the position for eight months, with four applicants considered.

Leppanen shared that after incorporation in 2018 volunteers on the town council, and the planning and zoning commission could not have anticipated the amount of work they have taken on.

“I can’t say enough about having a manager. It feels like a huge weight being able to move on from that. We also have a part-time office clerk and a ton of volunteers so the town is moving forward.”

One way the town is moving forward is with the acquisition of its newest building. In September 2021, the town and nonprofit Utah Diné Bikéyah approved the joint purchase of the old Bluff Elementary School Building from the San Juan School District.

The two organizations are working on solutions to the need for an updated fire suppression system in the building, dubbed the Cooperative Cultural Center.

“The goal between Utah Diné Bikéyah and the town is to write joint grants that cover things like a project manager, fire suppression, and an eventual remodel. I think we’re all very hopeful that we can get this started this summer for the fire suppression and then maybe be able to utilize the building for free events, inside and out. But until we get the fire suppression system we can’t do very much inside, in fact, we shouldn't be doing anything inside.”

Utah Diné Bikéyah celebrated its 10-year anniversary outside of the building earlier in the year.

Figuring out how to jointly manage the building is also continuous work. A design review committee made up of two representatives from both organizations are working together on grants.

“A municipality and a nonprofit working together does pose some restrictions and funding issues, so we’re navigating through those with the advice of counsel and the hard work of the design review committee.“

Leppanen added that the vision for the Cooperative Cultural Center will see the building divided roughly into one-third use for the town of Bluff and two-thirds use for Utah Diné Bikéyah.

Bluff will use the building for community and city hall offices.

Joint use will include the auditorium, kitchen, and much of the outside area.

Leppanen shares that the use by Utah Diné Bikéyah would include areas for their organizational offices and a cultural center focused on Indigenous peoples.

Another item the town council has been working on is the implementation of the town's Dark Sky lighting ordinance.

The ordinance was passed to limit light pollution, to conserve energy, and to keep a rural feel in the town.

In December of 2021, the council stayed enforcement of the ordinance through June 30 to allow businesses and residents to come into compliance with the ordinance which went into effect at the beginning of 2022.

The town has been working with a consultant to analyze Bluff’s lighting ordinance to look at concerns from the community and see if the ordinance falls in line with dark sky compliance with the International Dark-Sky Association.

Leppanen says retaining the beauty of the night sky is something Bluff residents want to retain.

“If you go into the designation of dark skies, what it really benefits is tourism and business and being able to market us as an international dark sky designation. But even without that designation, we still would like to keep the town as dark as possible.”

Leppanen shares that since 2019 she’s heard a lot of support for dark skies in Bluff, but how to make that happen has been the focus of the council.

“Our goal as a council has not been to be punitive and not to be an enforcer. It’s really getting the education out, looking at what resources we can put out to help people, and taking the time to work together.”

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