by Rick Langenberg:
Last summer, the town of Green Mountain Falls escaped unscathed from the devastating Waldo Canyon fire and embarked on a campaign to rebound.
In fact, GMF made swift strides as a community with the reformation of the Ute Pass Triangle Chamber of Commerce, the renovation of the Outlook Lodge and a growing image as a potential art and tourist mecca. This summer, the town is expected to see 10,000-plus people when the “Cloud City” exhibit, formerly displayed on top of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 2012, comes to GMF as a central focus of the Green Box Arts Festival.
With these community triumphs, it should be ‘happy days’ in GMF. Well, not exactly. In the last few months, this quaint Ute Pass hub has experienced a new fire, stoked by an unprecedented level of political tension, considerable turmoil among the board of trustees and a bevy of allegations, along with concerns over delays regarding certain key decisions.
Last week, GMF’s temporary town hall at the Joyland Church facility once again hosted another standing-room-only crowd, capped by an executive session and a slew of rumors surrounding the possible forced ouster of the mayor and other personnel actions. Conversations at The Pantry restaurant, the local rumor hub, have focused on the latest weekly political dramas in GMF on a regular basis. “It has been a challenging couple of months,” said GMF Mayor Lorrie Worthey, who surprised many local government insiders by winning the top seat last April against longtime resident and civic leader Dick Bratton. Since then, Worthey has learned the nuances of “trial by fire,” getting thrust into the media limelight during the Waldo Canyon fire when the entire town was evacuated for nearly 10 days.
Then came a huge furor over the live streaming (live audio/video broadcasts that viewers can observe first-hand by accessing their computers and I-phones) of its meetings last fall and the complete walkout by the majority board members at a regular session due to concerns over the way the process was handled. And at the end of the year, the town council barely approved a 2013 budget, with two leaders including Worthey, casting no votes. Moreover, several key issues, such as the selection of a new trustee to fill a vacated seat, finalizing a new permanent town hall site and resolving its live streaming broadcast situation, have either remained on hold or encountered delays.
Last week, the town council finally picked a new trustee with Margaret Peterson, but more than two months after an appointment was originally scheduled to take place. “There are a lot of diverse opinions and different personalities on the board,” quipped Worthey. “It’s been pretty interesting.” Plus, she is the first to admit she probably won’t win any awards for parliamentary procedures and government civics 101. “We have new people (on the board),” said Worthey.
But at least for now, the mayor is confident that a mini-political truce has been declared in GMF. “We are committed to working together and moving forward,” said Worthey, following last week’s meeting. “We all (members of the trustees) love this town and we are looking for common ground. I am looking forward to the future. We have some big issues ahead of us.”
Similar sentiments are echoed by Trustee Mac Pitrone, who was one one of several members that participated in the trustee walkout last fall, and has become a vocal foe of the mayor in the last few months.“This should resolve itself within the next 30 days,” said Pitrone. Things should get worked out. It will be resolved.”
And like Worthey, he is optimistic about the future of GMF. “There are some great things going on,” said the trustee, who has been involved in local government in GMF off and on for the last several decades.
Following correct procedures
However, that said, Pitrone admits the political atmosphere around town has deteriorated. “I have never seen it this bad,” said Pitrone, who actually endorsed Worthey during her run for office last spring. Pitrone believes that the controversy over the live streaming debate chilled political ties between himself and the mayor. And even now, he still believes that many people, including representatives of the media, have missed the point. “This had nothing to do with live streaming,” said Pitrone. “I don’t like the camera in the room, but I would get used to it. This was about an aberration of the democratic process. A vote was called for that evening and it wasn’t allowed to take place. Democratic procedures were not followed. That is why I left the meeting.”
Pitrone was referring to the concerns several council members, including himself, voiced over the proposed live streaming system for GMF and the commercialization and editing of the recordings, and their use as town official records. Although not dwelling into details, he indicated he and other leaders are bothered by certain government procedures that aren’t adhered to by the mayor.
But Worthey disagrees, and says a vote wasn’t required on the live streaming because town leaders can’t bar anyone from videotaping their meetings. She wants to get the live streaming situation resolved as soon as possible to better inform citizens, who can’t partake in the meetings. “I made a commitment for transparency in government, when I ran for office,” said Worthey. “I want to get more people involved. We live in a democracy.”
She definitely has gotten her wish. Town hall forums used to feature no attendees other than city employees. Live streaming or not, local GMF meetings now rival any entertainment outlet in the area on Tuesday nights.
As for the mayor’s concerns regarding the budget, Worthey argues that town leaders need to look more “outside the box” in examining fiscal problems that have continued to plague Green Mountain Falls. “It seemed like we have been doing the same thing every year. I wanted to look at things differently.”
Several trustees, though, were reportedly bothered by her suggestions to have one GMF department with excess funds, provide another agency with needed monies, under the premise of better cooperation. Some of Worthey’s critics also have been upset by certain Internet and social media posts, compiled by the mayor and her supporters. Both Pitrone and Worthey refused to elaborate on any of the discussions, held behind closed doors, or whether any actual talks have ensued regarding a change in the board’s lineup. No decisions occurred following last week’s executive session.
According to a knowledgeable local government expert, the only time an elected leader was ousted by fellow members in GMF occurred more than 20 years ago, when a former mayor made a number of threats against town employees and routinely showed up at meetings intoxicated. But as a statutory town, trustees can remove a fellow member by a simple majority tally.
The need to promote the area
Even with much political friction, the trustees unanimously agree on the need to help promote Green Mountain Falls and the entire Ute Pass. And they appear content with the vehicles in place to drum up more business. Last week, the Ute Pass Triangle Chamber of Commerce selected a new board of directors for 2013, set new due rates and made renewed commitments to orchestrate a number of key events and have an active website. Already, more than 50 members have joined the new chamber, according to Bratton, a member of the chamber board. “That is very impressive within a very short time. We want to bring the community together.”
“The future is promising,” said the mayor.