by Rick Langenberg:
The hopes for a civil and calm Green Mountain Falls Board of Trustees meeting were quickly dashed last week, when the subject of law enforcement arose.
And based on the comments of the main trustee who formerly oversaw the GMF marshal’s department, this office may become history.
At the Jan. 21 regular GMF Board of Trustees meeting, tempers ignited during a heated exchange between Trustee Howard Price and long-time resident Dick Bratton.
Bratton, a former mayor and trustee, continued raising questions about the future of the town’s law enforcement situation. “You need to focus on rebuilding the marshal’s office. We are unprotected,” said Bratton, following an array of concerns he voiced for two consecutive meetings during public comment sessions. “There is citizen concern for safety and the lack of law enforcement in Green Mountain Falls,” said Bratton. “Five members of this board managed to ‘get rid’ of our town marshal Tim Bradley…and our deputy marshal has been out on medical leave. So we have been without any GMF local security and law enforcement at all for 75 days now, and counting.
“Two members of this board closed and locked the marshal’s office and removed the equipment. Construction of the new town hall will not be completed for another eight months. What is the plan for opening a temporary marshal’s office? What is the plan for providing the manning of the office?”
At the very least, Bratton proposed that the town follow in the same direction as the small town of Alma and “buy an inflatable cop.”
His comments raised the ire of Price, the former head liaison of the marshal’s office, who immediately stood up from the trustees table in anger and started pointing at several sheriff deputies at the back of the room and alleged that Bratton was basically telling them, ‘you are doing a lousy job.’ Mayor Lorrie Worthey repeatedly banged the gavel and pleaded with Price to return to his seat and lower his voice, but with limited success. Eventually, Town Manager Rob McArthur came to the table in an attempt to cool tempers.
Very emotional, almost shouting, Price maintained that law enforcement was much better under the new system; with El Paso County manning the town’s law enforcement ropes. He also referred to Bratton’s allegations, especially about the way Bradley ended his employment, as completely false.
“The town is protected,” blasted Price, who asked Bratton if his home had been broken into. He suggested that there is more to law enforcement than pulling over a multitude of cars for traffic and driving under the influence on U.S. Hwy. 24, with the town not receiving any of these funds. He complained that the town had been paying huge dollars for a marshal’s office for a community that probably averaged one call a day. Moreover, he indicated that the money the town spent for law enforcement under Bradley’s reign was squandered. “We don’t have that kind of money,” added Price, in citing the high personnel and equipment costs for funding a complete marshal’s office. in a later e-mail, he cited costs of $120,000-plus on an annual basis for funding this office in the past.
Price also noted that much of the equipment Bradley used was abused. “This is one of the reasons why we can’t afford a marshal’s office,” said Price, who expressed much disappointment at the condition of the police cars and computer equipment, following the departure of Bradley.
As for replying to Bratton’s specific concerns, the trustee said that he believes local law enforcement service has greatly improved, with a better coordinated effort among the El Paso and Teller sheriff offices and the state patrol. “Just how much law enforcement does GMF need?” asked Price, in an e-mail sent to Bratton, and released to the media. “The number of tickets written is not important. The health and welfare of our people is. There is only one active investigation taking place right now.”
Bratton, though, has maintained that service isn’t better under the new arrangement. He said he has heard complaints from residents regarding no local patrols in neighborhoods and much longer periods for responding to calls. “I doubt we are going to receive the same level of service as we would by having our own town marshal’s office,” said Bratton.
Some local business operators also are nervous about the new plan. During an incident at a local bar and tavern, shortly after the marshal’s office was shut down, business operators said it took the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department about 50 minutes to respond to reports of a fight between two patrons that got ugly. The owners of the Joyland Church, which houses the temporary town hall, have also raised concerns over the law enforcement scenario since the exit of Bradley.
Some residents in the area, though, question whether it is worth it to keep a GMF marshal’s office and believe a Ute Pass sheriff’s substation may be the course to follow. But until GMF has a new town hall, that option won’t be possible.
The fate of the marshal’s office in GMF is expected to rate as one of the most contentious issues during the forthcoming April election. Most trustees have stated that the marshal’s office would remain, but it would be restructured, with this agency doing more code enforcement work. But in recent weeks, questions have been raised regarding the agency getting axed completely.