by Rick Langenberg
The town of Green Mountain Falls has gotten bombarded with floods, fires, disasters, and yes, considerable political turmoil.
As a result, GMF leaders say they are considering a major government reorganization plan in an effort to prepare for emergencies, have a more efficient operation and communicate better with citizens. This sweeping proposal introduced last week, calls for the addition of a new town manager with the possible appointment of current public works director Robert McArthur to this position; and the development of an intergovernmental agreement with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department, which would assume a more predominant role in handling local law enforcement.
These ideas will be discussed in the next few months, with presentations by officials from the Colorado Municipal League and by El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa. A formal vote will then occur in early January 2014. “It is a very smart way of running the government,” said veteran trustee Jane Newberry, who presented many parts of the reorganization plans last week. “This will create a lot more efficiencies and better communications. It frees up the board to do more policy-making. It changes the perspective of the board of trustees.”
But the initial debut of these plans got met with more questions than answers, such as: Is this part of another attempt to shut down the marshal’s office? Why would a town of just a few full-time employees need to have a town manager? How can a town struggling for cash afford to have a full-time city manager? Is (GMF Public Works Director) Robert McArthur the best choice for this position and shouldn’t the town pick a town manager outside of the current GMF employment ranks? And what is the hurry, with the town facing a major election in April? “Once again, we are trying to build walls without the proper foundation,” said GMF Mayor Lorrie Worthey, who contends she was taken for a loop with the way these ideas were presented last week “We need to have more workshops and need to have more public input. I am just very grateful that a lot of our citizens attended the (Oct. 1 trustees) meeting to slow everything down.”
These government reorganization plans were put on the agenda at last week’s regualar meeting, following an executive session. Worthey complained about the lack of communications in the way this process was handled.
That said, the mayor contends she supports some aspects of the plan, such as having a town manager. “That would take the trustees out of personnel matters,” said the mayor, who believes this has become a growing problem. “This is a good idea, but we need to study it more.” But some residents are extremely skeptical of this plan, and are questioning the political motives of the majority trustees. “It is not the appropriate solution to the problems the Green Mountain Falls trustees are having,” said long-time resident and former mayor and trustee Dick Bratton.
According to Bratton, the town has explored some of these ideas in the past, and especially contracting out law enforcement duties with El Paso County. “We found out that it was never financial feasible,” said Bratton, in outlining past bids to contract out law enforcement with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department. Plus, he admits this idea was pursued when many residents were unhappy with the marshal and the services this office was providing. He contends that isn’t the case now. “There are many citizens who believe that (GMF Marshal) Tim Bradley is the best marshal we have ever had,” said Bratton, who has frequently grilled the current trustees regarding their issues with the current police department. And when it comes to having a town manager, Bratton admits he is flabbergasted. “Why does a town with four employees need a town manager. We have gone for more than 100 years without a town manager. Why do we need one now?”
Similar criticism regarding the reorganization plan is being voiced by leaders of the Concerned Citizens Group of Green Mountain Falls. “There are some legal ramifications with this,” said Concerns Citizens leader Dick Lackmond, who questions the legality of having a town manager for a community the size of Green Mountain Falls. “It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.”
But on the upside, he believes the trustees’ latest plans have re-energized their group. According to Lackmond, the group now may try to re-introduce recall petitions against two current elected leaders, with the timing of the campaign and future election to coincide with the city’s regular municipal vote this spring. Previously, the group announced plans to suspend their recall effort.
The forthcoming April election will play a key role in determining the future political landscape of Green Mountain Falls. At issue are at least four seats, including a mayoral spot. And if recall petitions move forward, two other elected leaders could face an election. Under one possible scenario, as many as six elected positions could be determined this spring.
A good way to do business
Newberry, though, who is term-limited from her trustee position but can run for mayor this April, believes that once residents learn about the details of the town’s reorganization plan, they will understand the benefits of doing business this way.
For example, she notes that many residents want to engage the trustees during its meetings that are only held twice a month. But if a town manager comes on board, she believes residents will have the opportunity to address their concerns with a designated employee in a much more efficient manner. From the trustee’s perspective, she believes McArthur deserves to be considered as a leading candidate for the job. “He is doing 99.9 percent of the job of a town manager right now,” said Newberry. Moreover, she cited his success in garnering grants for the town and in heading up the new town hall project and in responding to GMF’s recent flood disaster so effectively.
Other leaders, though, such as Worthey, are skeptical. “We are putting more fuel into the fire,” responded the mayor. She is worried that a McArthur administration would make it easier for the trustees to shut down the police department and get things approved through a back door, good ol’ boy system. She cites the fact that McArthur was the main architect of an exploratory e-mail effort to solicit bids for privatizing the police department. “Nothing comes for free,” said the mayor, in expressing concerns about the costs of an intergovernmental agreement with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department.
Several trustees, though, have mentioned the willingness of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department to form a closer alliance with Green Mountain Falls and even to have an office at the new town hall facility. With the additional monies approved by voters in a bond issue last November, they say that additional sheriff department monies are available for personnel-related expenses. Plus, they cite the advantages of having closer coordination with El Paso County and handling disasters better, under the agreement.