Sparks Fly over Review of Woodland Park’s Fleet of Vehicles

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

 Woodland Park elected leaders continue to heavily debate over plans to scrutinize the use of city vehicles—a fight that is triggering one main question: Who is in charge of certain government operations.

The squabble may even reignite the familiar tug of war between the city administration and some council members. A rather mundane meeting last week suddenly ignited into a volley of political sparks, when Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey requested that a newly formed committee, launched to evaluate the use of city vehicles as part of a cost-saving measure, be dissolved immediately. She sought to have a formal vote at the next council meeting in early May.

Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey

Harvey didn’t mince words in criticizing the actions of a committee, formed by fellow council members Val Carr and John Schafer at the beginning of 2017. According to Harvey, the vehicle usage review committee is costing the city a huge amount of money and is imposing unfair obligations on key administrators and employees. Harvey, who originally voted in favor of forming the group, says she regrets her earlier decision and now wants to axe the committee. “There is no end in sight,” said Harvey, who unveiled initial costs for city staff members at more than $1,000 a month in time allotted for the project. “That is an expense I am not willing to continue. I don’t think this (committee process) is going to provide a recommendation to the council.”

More specifically, Harvey criticized the intensive data collection process that requires much information from city employees and even photographs of vehicle tool boxes and various detailed statistic collection methods. She cited costs of $600 alone a month for the deputy clerk in handling the committee requests. She received much support from several other council members, including the mayor. “I don’t like this process at all,” blasted Mayor Neil Levy. “The city staff should handle this. We got a lot of information right now.”

Mayor Neil Levy

According to the mayor, the current process started by the vehicle usage review committee may end up costing the government thousands of dollars. “Why are we doing this?” questioned Councilman Ken Matthews, a staunch critic of the recently formed committee. He said he isn’t convinced that Woodland Park has a problem with its current allotment and use of city vehicles.

But both Carr and Schafer defended the committee’s work, and noted that they just have started collecting data regarding the city’s fleet of vehicles. “We have been ambushed on this,” replied Carr, in reference to having a vote to eliminate a committee that just got underway. He asked for more time to complete their initial work, which they hope could provide a way for the city to save money. He also questioned the continual controversy over the vehicle review effort. “We seem to be revisiting things we voted on in past meetings,” explained Carr.

“Let’s not forget why we put this committee together,” said Schafer. He cited an extremely low reserve fund as the main reason for reviewing vehicle usage as a way to trim the city’s expenses. “There may be some cost savings.” Late last year, vehicle usage was mentioned as a good way to cut costs without incurring layoffs, reducing salaries or taking more drastic measures. Several council members questioned the city’s extensive fleet of vehicles for the current staff level.

A few council members also signaled the red light over a record low reserve fund that actually was smaller than such communities as Green Mountain Falls. Schafer also questioned the mayor pro tem’s analysis of the city employee costs, saying it was the intent of the committee to have volunteers do the data collection work.

Noel Sawyer

Councilman Noel Sawyer, meanwhile, suggested that the group develop a better system, prior to spending so much time and energy on collecting data that may not produce tangible results. “We need to create the baseline metrics,” said Sawyer.  He was referring to the need to develop a formula for determining the minimum amount of vehicle usage prior to deciding whether to sell or dispose of a certain car or truck. “Forget the data collection Val (Carr).” For example, he said the group needs to compile a set acceptable percentage level of vehicle usage. “I know about this. I have five cars,” quipped Sawyer.  

Who Is Really in Charge?

The fight once again raised questions over city management and fiscal policies.  

In a larger issue, Harvey said the committee’s formation represents too much micro-management by the council and demonstrates a lack of trust towards the city staff.  “The staff’s perception is ‘we don’t trust them.’” She even suggested that the council members may be violating provisions of the city charter regarding Woodland Park’s city manager form of government, rather than one dominated by the council. Similar sentiments were echoed by both Sawyer and Levy. “It is a slippery slope,” said Sawyer, who in recent weeks has retreated from earlier criticism of the City Manager David Buttery, in describing the formation of the committee.

Levy maintains that Buttery is the best person to handle the review of its current vehicle usage policies, and decide how the city can trim costs. “Ask the city manager to do his job,” suggested the mayor, who supported putting the vehicle review situation under the full reign of Buttery. But the subject of management control and fiscal responsibility has been a divisive issue among the current council.

Councilman Paul Saunier, known for his blunt, New York City-style of talking, presented a different perspective regarding the management situation in response to the mayor’s comment. “I am David’s boss,”replied  Saunier, in referring to the role of the council in overseeing the city manager. Again, he contended that if money could be saved, the vehicle review committee work was worth pursuing, but he admitted he is bothered by the complex data collection process. “I am looking for cost savings,” said Saunier. “I look at it as a committee working together.”

By a near unanimous vote, the council agreed to review a future proposal by the city staff, which would dismantle the vehicle usage review committee. The sole dissenting vote was made by Carr, who appeared visibly upset following last week’s discussion.

However, at Carr’s request this vote won’t occur until the middle of May.