by Rick Langenberg:
Group outraged by efforts to eliminate police department
A Green Mountain Falls citizens committee plans to soon start circulating recall petitions, asking for the removal of five out of seven of the current group of elected trustee leaders and to rid the clerk of her election duties.
According to group leaders, the petition wording could be finalized this week. Already, an informal list of grievances cites a variety concerns, including conduct unbecoming an elected official, slandering a local citizen, voting for social media policies that limit open dialogue, not providing the public with proper information prior to considering key issues, opposing the police department and endorsing policies that endanger public safety, approving a budget that doesn’t support adequate law enforcement resources and failing to take the advice of the town attorney.
The only council members not under assault are Mayor Lorrie Worthey and Trustee and former mayor Tyler Stevens. They often have found themselves on the losing side of many board votes. For the last several weeks, the citizens group, headed by Judy Wiedner and Billie Harwood, has conducted meetings with local residents regarding the actions of the board of trustees and what they refer to as ignoring the wishes of GMF citizens. They have already obtained the advice of an attorney, and according to Wiedner, want to make sure they cross their T’s regarding a potential recall petition campaign. The group leaders hinted that they don’t want to experience the same pitfalls as the recent recall campaign against state Senator John Morse, which got delayed due to technical snags. “We want to make sure we do everything by the book,” said Wiedner, who still isn’t quite sure of the amount of autographs necessary to force a vote. At least one of the targeted council members can’t run again next April due to term limits.
The group is mostly outraged by the lack of communications between the majority board and citizens. A few city council meetings have erupted into shouting matches, with much heated rhetoric over the future of law enforcement in GMF, the use of social media and the videotaping and live-streaming of public meetings. Ironically, some of the more significant issues, such as developing a new town hall facility and handling recreational marijuana, have featured hardly any arguments.
Still, many long-time residents and observers of civic affairs, say they have never seen the current GMF political atmosphere get so hostile. “It’s time to do something and become a citizens’ town again,” said Wiedner, during the group’s recent July 14 forum. “They (the majority members of the board of trustees) hate the town,” shouted one of the group leaders.
However, not everyone attending the meetings agrees with these sentiments. “You hate me,” replied Trustee Jane Newberry, who surprised some group members when she attended the group’s recent meeting, during one exchange in describing the current political atmosphere and unfortunate false perceptions that have developed. In the last month and a half, Newberry has been critical of many social media reports, which she feels have been extremely inaccurate.
She cautioned the group that local elected leaders are bound by certain rules. “We are governed by law,” said Newberry, in describing the restrictions facing the board of trustees. Newberry stated that the board could only publicly discuss issues placed on its regular agenda and had restrictions regarding personnel matters.
The recall group is extremely irked by what they refer to as a secret, underhanded campaign to fire Police Chief and head Marshal Tim Bradley and eliminate the agency altogether.
The group recently released a copy of an e-mail sent by the Green Mountain Falls Public Works Department to a private contractor, indicating that the town is looking at ways to restructure its law enforcement agency to include privatization. Under this possible plan, a private security contractor would “patrol assigned areas, respond to calls for services, take appropriate action in order to keep the peace, provide assistance and maintain positive visibility.” It would require the contractor to patrol the town in marked security vehicles for at least 80 hours per week.
The memo notes that the town has an annual budget of less than $100,000 for these services. Also, it lists nearly 20 specific functions of the private contractor, a number of which are quite demanding. The GMF e-mail request, which became public when the marshal received copies of the bids made by contractors, has generated much angst among members of the citizens group. They are clearly defending Bradley. “He is not a ‘yes’ man,” blasted one resident, at the July 14 citizens meeting. The resident described Bradley as the best marshal the town has had in years because he isn’t willing to submit to the good ol’ boy mentality. “This is an absolutely horrible idea,” said Wiedner, in discussing the privatization plan. “We are an incorporated town. We need a police department.”
Harwood went one step further and described this privatization plan as an outright danger to GMF, which has experienced an increase in home thefts and cabin break-ins. She noted limits and delays in the legal ability of security guards to handle arrests and many cases because they would have to call in officers from neighboring law enforcement agencies, such as El Paso County. She fears that the recent GMF e-mail regarding the private security idea resembles an official request for proposals (RFP) process.
The trustees say too much has been made of this report, claiming nothing has been decided regarding a bid to eliminate or restructure the police agency. Newberry at the July 14 citizens meeting stressed that this issue hasn’t been discussed by the trustees whatsoever. Price, who oversees the police department, didn’t attend last week’s regular trustees meeting
Some private meetings have been held between several trustees and Bradley. But these sessions have produced mixed opinions. During one of these sessions, Bradley reported that he was asked to look for another job. But the trustees who attended this session, Price and Mac Pitrone, have adamantly denied that allegation.
However, Pitrone, who has been critical of Bradley’s recent requests, such as using a service dog, recently cited financial and communication issues with the marshal’s office that need to be addressed. He stressed that the town has an extremely limited budget. For example, he questioned some of the procedures Bradley wanted to use to hire additional police personnel. In a recent interview, Pitrone described the town’s current situation with the marshal’s office as unsatisfactory.
The citizens group is baffled by the trustees’ attitude regarding the police department. They question if the town is trying to eliminate the police department as part of a personal agenda and are using the town’s financial plight as an excuse.