by Rick Langenberg
Bring back peace and tranquility to Green Mountain Falls, stop the bickering, stay focused on key projects, provide factual information, educate a new cadre of elected leaders and run GMF like a business.
These are some of the main goals of new Green Mountain Falls Town Manager Robert McArthur, who was recently handed the administrative reins of the government. He has become the first-ever town manager for the small Ute Pass community that has operated with a trustee liaison system for decades, with elected leaders assuming the role as mini-department managers.
McArthur, who has worked for the town for nearly 10 years, is well aware of the complex challenges and controversies he faces as the head city boss, even with only two full-time employees. Town meetings have often turned into shouting matches, with much infighting among the board of trustees, and frequent conflicts arising over the future of law enforcement in the community, government transparency and fiscal accountability.
And some locals and business owners have mixed views over the role of McArthur, with proponents, including most trustees, praising his skills in generating thousands in grants for the town and resurrecting the public works agency. But critics, headed by the Concerned Citizens of Green Mountain Falls group, refer to him as the new “King of Green Mountain Falls” and someone who is on a power trip and wanting to strip away more authority from Mayor Lorrie Worthey. For months, McArthur and the mayor haven’t seen eye-to-eye.
Only minutes after the town manager job was finalized earlier this month, the elected leaders were handed a proposed ballot referendum, asking the voters to decide the fate of this position. If this effort moves forward and a successful vote occurs, McArthur would most likely get axed from this position and then resume his former role as public works director.
Still, McArthur isn’t fazed by the ugly side of GMF politics. “This is the right thing to do,” said McArthur, in describing the new change to a town manager form of government, during a recent interview. “We should have probably done this about 10 years ago.”
With the change, he says the town now has a single contact for running the day to day operations and won’t have five trustees arguing over the duties of a few employees. He also believes it will make financial decisions much easier. In some ways, he believes the system merely puts into writing what has occurred in GMF government circles informally.
But McArthur admits the road to ‘peace and tranquility’ in GMF isn’t without significant bumps. “I figure it is going to take me three years to straighten things out. It is going to take a while. This place is a mess right now,” related McArthur, in describing resistance from outside agencies to deal with Green Mountain Falls until it resolves its political woes.
As a result, he says he sought a three-year contract, structured in a way that would provide him a higher severance payment for the first year and considerably less as time progresses. This is somewhat contrary to the arrangement most government managers get, who usually start under a trial basis and receive much higher compensation after their initial probation period. Under the deal, he would be paid an equivalent of 10 months of severance salary if things don’t work out the first year and only and eight and six months for the subsequent years. His salary for the public works/town manager is $41,000, considerably lower than what city managers receive in nearby municipalities, such as Woodland Park, Manitou Springs and Cripple Creek.
A super-tight budget, with no prospects for growth, is a big hurdle the GMF head government boss faces in making any decision. “I plan to run the town like a business,” said McArthur, who compares GMF’s situation to that of a self-proprietorship, business operation. “The belt is getting tighter and tighter. We have to be efficient.”
“I am not trying to win a popularity contest,” added the new town manager, who admits the town faces some tough fiscal decisions. “I plan to provide fact-based information and won’t be drawn into any emotional debates.”
And at times, that verdict means “cutting the fat” and doing things that may generate some public opposition. However, McArthur views himself as the chief executive officer of a company, with the town’s residential and commercial property owners serving as the shareholders. “I represent the taxpayers. They pay the bills,” said McArthur.