by Ralph Routon
Penny Culbreth-Graft might be leaving unexpectedly as the Colorado Springs city manager, but her resignation letter Friday should not be taken by anyone that she was pushed to leave, Vice Mayor Larry Small says.
"Penny was not pressured in any way," Small said Friday, soon after the city released the news. "She's not running away from anything. We had just finished her annual review, and she was continuing to do a tremendous job for us. It was her own decision, and she did it in a professional and sensitive way. I'd be disappointed if anyone tried to take it any other way."
Culbreth-Graft sent her letter to City Council at 2:30 p.m. Friday, and also called as many Council members as she could reach. Mayor Lionel Rivera and Councilor Scott Hente are out of town, and others have not yet returned phone messages. Council's next scheduled meetings are Monday and Tuesday.
Small did admit that Culbreth-Graft had been through a lot, including almost constant budget and personnel cuts, since her arrival in January 2008 from a similar position in Huntington Beach, Calif.
"Given the pressure of the job, and all the tough decisions she's had to make, I know it takes a toll on a person," Small said. "I'm disappointed that she's leaving, because she's done a great job for us since she's been here. I don't think many people could have dealth with what she had to deal with these past 26 months.
"We're going to be the loser for it, because she'll be difficult to replace. But we appreciate that she's doing it at a time when it causes the least problems, and she's giving us enough time to put somebody in there on an interim basis so Penny can help that person have a better understanding of her strategies for the rest of this year and for 2011."
Culbreth-Graft's resignation letter says she's leaving to start a family business involving public speaking, consulting and writing, but doesn't indicate whether she might leave Colorado Springs.
"But she's not leaving, to the best of my knowledge," Small says. "And she's not walking away with any bad feelings. She just felt now was a good time to do it, to her advantage and the city's advantage. I have huge respect for her."
Small says he expects Council to move quickly in naming an interim replacement to work as much as possible with Culbreth-Graft before her April 16 departure.
One obvious candidate is Nancy Johnson, the assistant city manager brought here by Culbreth-Graft from a comparable position in Norfolk, Va.
"Nancy is really good, and that's a testament to Penny," Small says. "Penny went out and found somebody who exceeded our expectations. But we'll just have to look and see who's the best candidate, because we have an urgent need to get somebody in there where Penny's still here."