by Rick Langenberg
The Green Mountain Falls Board of Trustees have taken the last step in finalizing an ordinance and contract for a head town boss for the first time in the community’s 100-plus-year history
As a result, Robert McArthur, who has worked for the town for close to 10 years, will hold the joint duties as public works director and town manager.
However, the issue of a head manager in GMF is far from over. The plan has generated much debate with proponents saying the concept is one that should have been done years ago and will lead to more government efficiency and create better communications. Critics question the logic and say it’s more of plan to give more authority to the current public works director and to squash the power of the elected leaders, and especially the mayor.
Only minutes after finalizing the ordinance that establishes this position, a proposed ballot referendum that challenges this action was dropped on the table of the trustees by resident Michael Lohman, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Green Mountain Falls group and a former council candidate. If their petition is approved and a small number of signatures are obtained, the issue will be decided by the voters of Green Mountain Falls in April. Much is at stake in the spring showdown that could determine the political future of Green Mountain Falls, with possibly five seats up for grabs. Petitions also have been drafted, asking for the ouster of five of the seven elected leaders during the April election.
Concerned Citizens representatives have demanded that the city put the town manager issue on hold until after the municipal election. “How can you hire someone (with the referendum pending)?” questioned Judy Wiedner, a representative of the Citizens group, in suggesting that the board is taking a risky move in proceeding with the selection of McArthur as the head GMF boss.
Despite the political uncertainty regarding the town manager situation, McArthur didn’t express any concerns about the referendum and the recall efforts, saying he believes these petitions will be easily voted down. “I believe we have really turned the corner,” said McArthur, who contends that a selection of a town manager in GMF should have probably occurred 10 years ago. “It (the selection of a town manager) is the right thing to do. We (the city staff) will remain focused.”
The board of trustees, following an hour-long executive session, voted 4-1 last week to finalize a three-year contract for McArthur. The final contract was approved with only a few changes from the previous version.
Parts of this deal, though, have raised a few eyebrows from critics of the arrangement, including Mayor Lorrie Worthey and several previous mayors in GMF. With the approved contract, McArthur could receive a severance package that exceeds $80,000, if he is fired by the trustees with the vote of 70 percent of the elected leaders. According to the town’s previous attorney, this is well beyond the amount of money the city has in its reserve budget. “Do not take a chance on bankrupting the town with promises to any employee,” blasted former mayor Dick Bratton, in a detailed letter that suggested many necessary changes to the contract. According to Bratton’s analysis, the contract greatly benefits the town manager, but puts the town government at serious financial risk.
Another aspect of the deal criticized by Bratton involves an extra two weeks of vacation time due to McArthur’s additional duties as town manager. The contract also allows the GMF manager to obtain extra money from project and emergency management fees and do additional contract work, if it doesn’t conflict with his job in Green Mountain Falls.
Plus, the deal outlines a laundry list of 20 major duties for the town manager, running the gamut from overseeing the budget and all employees, to operating public works equipment, managing the GMF social media outlets and dealing with the local and regional news media.
The town trustees only agreed to make a few changes to the original contract. The most substantial adjustment dealt with doing away with an earlier provision that would permit the town manager to obtain equipment from the government as a partial payment for any severance package, if the town didn’t have the necessary funds to cover this required amount. Under the new change, the severance “lump sum” amount wouldn’t change, but the arrangement for this payment could be made through a joint agreement between the trustees and the town manager.
Following last week’s decision, Bratton continued to criticize the trustees. “The decision you have just made is a totally irresponsible action,” said Bratton, immediately after a vote occurred. “It is extremely dangerous.”
The former mayor and trustee questioned why the board didn’t adopt any of the changes he had suggested regarding the contract. And by taking their action, he believes the trustees are endangering the financial future of the town and are hamstringing a future board in dealing with city employees.
No other leaders or citizens made any public comments. Several trustees commented that they discussed the contract in length and did consider Bratton’s concerns. Several people in the audience cheered and expressed satisfaction in the decision to finalize the deal with McArthur.
In a public statement released to the media, Worthey stated that she disagrees with the decision supported by the majority board members, but vowed to work with the new town manager.
Next week: TMJ will review more details on the new Robert McArthur administration and the changes this new town manager role will create for GMF…