by Rick Langenberg:
A plan to hire the first ever town manager for Green Mountain Falls generated a lively debate last week, drawing mixed reviews from residents and civic leaders.
Based on the sentiments of most council members, the GMF trustees appear ready to implement this form of government, which would reduce their authority in running the town. They also support a plan to select current Public Works Director Robert McArthur to fill the slot. An official decision is expected to occur on Dec. 17.
However, the Concerned Citizens of Green Mountain Falls may file a referendum challenging this action and force the issue to be decided on by the voters next spring. During this forthcoming election, voters will also decide the fate of three trustee positions and a mayoral spot. Also, some property owners are questioning the proposed ordinance, arguing that it’s too vague and may allocate too much power to the new town hall boss. “It sounds like you are creating a barrier between the trustees and the rest of the employees,” said Amily-Beidelman-Almy owner of the Mucky Duck restaurant, in expressing concerns over parts of the new ordinance. “It can be a positive thing, if it is done correctly,” she added. “You want the citizens to be happy with the decision to hire a town manager. Get the citizens behind you,” said Vickie McNight of the Joyland Church. “You need to get your policies straight. I am tired of bickering,” said Rich Bowman.
These comments characterized many of the opinions regarding the new unprecedented administrative change for Green Mountain Falls, with most supporting the town manager concept, but posing questions about the details and urging the trustees to develop a good ordinance, even if the final product takes more time.
Most trustees are big supporters of the town manager plan and want to give the job to McArthur at no extra cost to the town. “Our town government is not changing,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jane Newberry. “What is changing is the trustee liaison system.” Under this traditional system, each trustee oversees certain departments and plays a more hands-on-managerial role than what occurs in other bigger municipalities, such as Woodland Park.
Under the new plan, the town manager would deal with the day to day administration of GMF and be in charge of all employees and departments, while the trustees would deal with overall policies. “The town manager would function like a chief executive officer,” explained Newberry, who believes the change would benefit the citizens and town employees and help promote better relations with outside agencies.
Trustee Howard Price also signaled the thumbs-up for the plan, saying the idea should have been implemented two years ago. “I am tired of tabling things,” complained Price. “Nothing really gets accomplished (under the current system).”
Trustee Mac Pitrone noted that he is a proponent of the town manager concept, and cited more than 40 letters of endorsement for McArthur.
However, both Mayor Lorrie Worthey and Trustee Tyler Stevens remained quite skeptical. They questioned why the town hall manager plan is such an immediate priority, and also raised concerns about the new ordinance. “It really could be great if it is approached carefully,” said Worthey. “This is a tremendous amount of authority we are placing on one individual in our town. More importantly, she is worried that “will of the people” may get squashed by the proposed change, with the trustees taking a sideline role.
Stevens called the idea “intriguing,” but believes GMF has other more pressing priorities and needs to update its policies and procedures prior to naming a new town hall manager.
Sentiments from local residents regarding the managerial plan were largely mixed during last week’s hearing. Long-time resident Dick Bratton complimented the board for improving the proposal from a previous draft, but argued that the board should open the job up to a competitive bidding process.
Several residents, though, strongly endorsed the plan. “You need to get out of the day-to-day,” said Cameron Thorne, who serves on the planning commission. “The board isn’t losing any power. This is a perfect thing,” said another resident, who cited a need to run the town government more like a business.
Some residents, though, indicated that the plan is too vague and leaves too many questions unanswered. GMF Attorney Lisa Tormoen Hickey somewhat agreed with this ordinance, saying the board needs to tighten up its ordinance that establishes the new position and have more precise language. Unlike previous meetings, the board held a mostly civil discussion that featured another standing-room-only crowd. Green Mountain Falls’ town meetings now rank as some of the most contested and boisterous in the area.
A future vote?
Regardless of what action the trustees take in picking a new town hall boss, the future of this job may be headed to the voters
Representatives of the Concerned Citizens group, which is challenging the actions of most trustees, say they will launch a petition effort to challenge the town hall manager plan, if the trustees vote in support of the ordinance as expected.