Mike Stark will take over for Kim Carpenter on Jan. 1

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AZTEC — San Juan County Commission Chairwoman Margaret McDaniel teared up Tuesday as she thanked outgoing County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter for the years he has dedicated to serving San Juan County.

Carpenter is retiring Dec. 31, and the County Commission appointed Mike Stark Tuesday as the new county manager. Stark will assume the role on Jan. 1.

Commissioner Jack Fortner made the motion to appoint Stark to the position and said he preferred for the position to be called county manager.

The commission unanimously approved Stark's appointment.

"I really look forward to working with the great team that Dr. Carpenter helped build," Stark said during the meeting.

Stark said that includes elected officials, department heads and other county employees. He thanked Carpenter for his leadership and service to the county.

"You're leaving a lasting legacy," he said.

Carpenter has been county executive officer since 2011

Carpenter took the position of CEO in August 2011 after serving as the interim CEO for several months following former County Manager Keith Johns' retirement in June 2011.

Johns retired to prepare for a run for the County Commission and wound up serving two terms.

Carpenter has worked for the county for about 14 years, including seven years as deputy county executive officer. He has worked in public service for more than 31 years. He said he feels he has taken the county to the point that it has reached its peak potential under his leadership.

Carpenter said the county has received 10 significant achievement awards from such groups as the National Association of Counties and was ranked as one of the best places to work in New Mexico in a workplace dynamics survey conducted by a Philadelphia-based firm in conjunction with the Albuquerque Journal.  

Over the past seven years, the county also has faced various challenges.

During Carpenter's tenure, the county has helped address irrigation ditch problems and surface water contamination following the Gold King Mine spill, provided support for customers during the boil-water advisory that affected two water systems owned by the AV Water Co., provided assistance when a fire broke out at a WPX oil field site near Nageezi, and helped with the emergency response following the Aztec High School shooting.

"We've done a lot of good over the years," he said.

Carpenter said it has been an honor for him to be a public servant. He will be relocating to Arizona.

“I’m 53, and I’m ready to try something new,” he said.

Stark has worked for San Juan County since 2006

Stark said he moved to San Juan County in 1999 and discovered it is an amazing place to live, work and play, and to raise a family.

"It became home for us," he said.

He started working for San Juan County in 2006 as projects manager and was promoted to county operations officer in 2011.

Stark said his primary objective is to implement the vision set by the County Commission, including the goals of protecting jobs and diversifying the economy.

One way the county hopes to achieve the latter is through promoting outdoor recreation.

"It's probably time that we're not the best-kept secret in the United States," Stark said.

He said the county will work on marketing measures for the area and pointed out that some local attractions already are earning attention. National Geographic included the Bisti/De-Na-Zin wilderness area in its "Where to travel in 2019" list.

Stark will be paid $141,211.20 annually, according to a contract that is available to the public at the San Juan County administration building on South Oliver Drive in Aztec.

Stark has a master's degree in business administration and a bachelor's degree in marketing from New Mexico Highlands University.

The contract covers the period from Jan. 1, 2019, until June 30, 2020. In 2020, the County Commission can choose to extend the contract for additional one-year terms.

Stark said the county manager position carries a lot of responsibility. He quoted former manager Keith Johns saying, "You end up being responsible for everything but the weather."

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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