by Rick Langenberg:
Residents rally behind police chief
With concerns mounting regarding alleged efforts to fire the Green Mountain Falls police chief, squash resident input and plan for emergencies, a group of local citizens say it’s time to “take back our town.” A new ”Citizens for Action” group has been formed in Green Mountain Falls and the lower Ute Pass, with an agenda that includes recalling the majority members of the board of trustees, ridding the city clerk of her election duties and making their presence known at town hall meetings.
The group held their first meeting Sunday afternoon and plans to make a presentation at the forthcoming July 2 GMF Board of Trustees session. They have already compiled a list of 10-plus issues, such as keeping the current marshal in office, having more transparency in government, recognizing public input and adhering to local emergency plans. Down the road, group members made it clear on Sunday they are considering stern political actions, including ousting certain members of the current board of trustees and demanding more accountability regarding the town’s monies. “We want to see changes and bring people together, said Judy ”Lofland” Wiedner, who is one of the main leaders of the group. Wiedner attracted much attention last Thursday, when she and a few other people, waved a cardboard sign, “Take Back Our Town,” in front of the local post office. “It was amazing the positive response we received,” related Wiedner, who describes herself as a several-generation native of GMF.
Response to city council behavior
The group was formed in the wake of another highly volatile board of trustees meeting, featuring a standing-room-only crowd and clashes between a crowd of residents and several elected leaders. Tempers flared up during a discussion on the current situation with the police department, known locally as the marshal’s office.
Several residents lauded the track record of current Police Chief Tim Bradley and asked that the board reconsider a previous decision to deny his office the use of a service dog.
Long-time resident and former mayor and trustee Dick Bratton accused the board of creating a wall between the town residents and the board. “Break down the wall,” demanded Bratton. He conceded that rumors are running amok about a secret board effort to oust the marshal.
Bratton heavily criticized the board’s decision to deny the marshal’s office the use of a service dog. With the rising spree of home break-ins, Bratton stated that the trustees couldn’t have picked a worst time to put a clamp on the marshal’s office. Similar sentiments were echoed by other residents. With no exceptions, the residents, who spoke at last week’s meeting, gave Bradley high marks for his job as police chief and ability to work with community residents and sought to give him additional assistance. They also criticized the recent behavior of certain trustees at public meetings.
Most trustees didn’t comment on the residents’ opinions. Trustee Howard Price stated that they couldn’t discuss some of the personnel issues, pertaining to former deputies of the agency. He said he would love to share some of these discussions, but the trustees were limited by legal obligations. However, the tone of the meeting drastically changed when Bradley was asked directly by a resident about his employment status. He replied that he wasn’t forced to resign, but acknowledged, “I was asked to find another job.” This admission enraged the residents, who questioned why two trustees met with Bradley in private in the first place. “This board is a circus,” blasted resident Berkeley Davis.
Trustee and former mayor Tyler Stevens asked why this matter of Bradley’s employment status wasn’t brought before the entire board. He said he never heard of this discussion prior to last week’s meeting. However, city attorney Lisa Tormoen Hickey cautioned that this private trustee meeting with the marshal may have been more of an overall management session, which is permitted. Price, one of two trustees who reportedly participated in the discussion, is the current trustee in charge of the marshal’s office. The attorney also noted that Bradley’s comments may have just represented his own impression of part of that discussion. That said, the GMF attorney clearly felt uncomfortable about discussing personnel issues and suggested that the board have an overall policy discussion on the future of the marshal’s office at a later date.
Price, however, denied reports of any trustee seeking the marshal’s resignation, or forcing him to step down. He also hinted that possibly a misperception of this discussion occurred. Trustee Mac Pitrone, who also participated in the management discussion, agreed with Price. Like Price, he denied any board statements at the management meeting, asking Bradley to leave. But in a later interview, Pitrone noted that town’s current situation with the marshal’s office is “unsatisfactory,” mentioning a few financial concerns pertaining to the marshal’s budget and some communication issues.
Similar to a previous board meeting, several trustees last week pointed their fingers at inaccurate postings done through social media outlets as one of the main culprits. Trustee Jane Newberry, who is the town’s spokesperson on the new city hall project, stated that many of the Facebook statements regarding the Green Mountain Falls government are false.
Trustee Margaret Peterson went one step further and backed up her previous comments regarding what she referred to as personal attacks made by GMF Mayor Lorrie Worthey against other city council members. “Stop with the pitch fork,” demanded Peterson, at a previous trustees meeting. Last week, she maintained a similar attitude and questioned the attitude of many of the trustee critics. “This is the mob mentality I was asking not to happen,” said Peterson.
During a brief presentation, Bradley defended his track record and conceded that any traffic control program implemented in a town like GMF can become quite controversial. But he cited statistics indicating that his agency has taken a much lower profile role in citing motorists for speeding. For example, in the last year, he has reported giving out seven speeding citations and 139 verbal warnings, which compares to more than 70 speeding citations and 228 verbal warnings of the previous year.
The new Citizens for Action group say they strongly support the marshal’s traffic control program, and admit many residents needed to slow down when driving through town. In fact, the group strongly supports the marshal, period. That view may clash with the majority sentiment of the current trustees.
During Sunday’s kick-off meeting, group leader Billie Harwood listed such concerns as broadcasting board meetings on the Internet immediately; giving Bradley a one-year employment contract; continuing the marshal’s presence on Hwy. 24; reconsidering and approving the use of the police dog; posting all reports on the Internet at least three days before board meetings; being receptive to citizen input and considering it before making decisions; adding an agenda item for citizen question and answer with board members to allow for courteous feedback; not making any decisions until an issue has been documented on the Internet; reviewing and updating then emergency action plan and incorporating citizen input into the final updated town code.
The group also says it wants to take some of the pressure off the current mayor, who they believe has gotten a bad rap for “asking too many questions.” Pitrone, in an interview Monday, said he would welcome a dialogue with the group. But he said that too often groups like this are formed, based on false information and too much emotion. “That is why we have a board of trustees and not a committee of 600 people,” said Pitrone.
Pitrone also said he welcomes a detailed discussion regarding the future of the marshal’s office. “I really think that needs to happen,” said the trustee, who has come under fire by members of the new group.