by Rick Langenberg:
The boxing gloves came off last week during a brief showdown over the future of local law enforcement in Green Mountain Falls, with allegations running rampant and anger levels rising. Not surprisingly, the latest argument occurred between long-time resident and former mayor Dick Bratton and veteran trustee Mac Pitrone, two well-known civic leaders who frequently clash on local issues.
Bratton accused certain public works employees of “playing cop” and “impersonating a police officer” with regards to their new use of code enforcement vehicles. He demanded that a public hearing be held to discuss the future of the town’s marshal’s department, noting that the town still designated monies in its budget for such an office and has a member of the force on its payroll. “The citizens are upset,” said Bratton. “They want a marshal’s office.”
In addition, he contended that the town’s safety is at risk. However, the majority of trustees maintained that the town doesn’t have the money to operate a marshal’s department, and instead, wanted to explore the possibility of establishing an intergovernmental agreement with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department. Trustee Ralph LoCascio hinted that the best solution hinged on establishing a Sheriff’s substation at the new town hall facility. “We are nuts for the money we were spending (for a marshal’s office in the past,)” said LoCascio, in describing the opinions he has received from other officials, especially for a town with such a lean budget.
In a compromise move, the trustees, by a unanimous vote, agreed to explore their options with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. It’s still unclear if the trustees plan to hold a hearing or a future workshop on the subject of local law enforcement.
For more than 100 years, the town has operated with a town marshal, a folksy tradition that some say is part of the GMF heritage. But for the last six months, the issue of local law enforcement and the future of its marshal’s office have remained in limbo.
At last week’s regular meeting, fireworks ignited when Bratton read a prepared statement that heavily criticized a recent report that was provided to him by Trustee Howard Price, the elected leader who formerly oversaw the marshal’s office. “Claiming that Department of Public Works employees are providing 30 hours of law enforcement coverage per week is laughable,” blasted Bratton. “They are not law enforcement personnel. In fact, driving a code enforcement vehicle and playing cop could be considered impersonating a police officer which is a felony. The vehicle used to say police on it before the public works director, without permission, covered over police and replaced it with code enforcement. The position of code enforcement officers is not even authorized in our municipal code.”
Bratton, though, couldn’t quite complete his statements before getting interrupted by several trustees, who expressed outrage by his allegations. “This is completely out of order,” charged Pitrone, who abruptly put an end to Bratton’s presentation. LoCascio agreed and stated that Bratton needs to come up with information that is backed up by facts and not speculation, when criticizing the town government. Bratton countered by asking if the board now denies citizen input.
Response times in question
Besides Bratton, a representative of the Green Mountain Falls/Chipita Park Fire Protection District, raised concerns about response times without having a marshal’s office. The representative noted that emergency service workers in the area can learn to adapt with the option of less regular patrols without a marshal’s office. But the representative cited 30-plus minutes for a recent emergency incident that required law enforcement personnel.
The fire department representative cited these types of delays as life threatening. Similar concerns have been voiced by other business owners, with one dispute at a local bar resulting in a 40-minute-plus delay prior to law officers intervening to break up a fight. “Without professional law enforcement in GMF, we will not be able to provide all of our visitors with protection,” said Karla Penner, owner of the Blue Moose Tavern, in a recent Facebook posting.
Several trustees and Interim Town Manager Rob McArthur say that the best scenario would involve the establishment of a sheriff’s substation at the new town hall facility, which should be completed by Labor Day. This proposed $800,000 building, which would be located adjacent to Joyland Church, will come equipped with an extensive law enforcement area. “Response times to emergencies would dramatically improve if we have a new substation,” said McArthur at last week’s meeting. “El Paso County sheriff officials would spend more time up here, if they have a place to go.”
Also, several trustees disputed the allegations made by Bratton about a reduced level of patrols. “I have seen more patrols in the last few weeks than what I have seen in years,” said Trustee Margaret Peterson. Most trustees also noted that service has been excellent, with the assistance of El Paso and Teller County sheriff offices and the state patrol.
But Bratton refused to let the issue drop and requested a public hearing on the subject. Pitrone, though, said he didn’t want the regular business of the board to be subdued by such a discussion.
“It sounds like a contentious issue,” added GMF Attorney Matt Krob, who suggested having a work session.
According to McArthur, this type of forum probably won’t occur until after the forthcoming April 1 municipal election.