Marshal’s office may get reformed
by Rick Langenberg:
In a big victory for a slate of Green Mountain Falls candidates who have challenged the status quo administration, local voters last week made it clear they want a leadership change and a more open government.
Moreover, with the GMF election verdict, the big winners are proponents of a push to reform the marshal’s office, eliminate the town manager job and develop a friendlier environment for citizen input. But with these potential changes, the new leadership guard will face plenty of challenges and must overcome a bitter political climate.
“The citizens want change,” said Mayor Lorrie Worthey, immediately following the announcement of the vote results during a celebration at the Blue Moose Tavern on April 1. “This is a good day for Green Mountain Falls.”
Worthey beat challenger Jane Newberry, the current mayor pro tem and a 10-year board veteran, by a 143 to 118 margin. In addition, three other candidates who ran on the same platform as Worthey, Dave Cook, Michael Butts and Chris Quinn, all won seats on the board. Meanwhile, long-time resident Margaret Peterson, who was appointed to the board last year and who supported the majority of the board of trustees, only garnered 125 tallies and received her walking papers. According to local political observers, the trustee vote was probably the most surprising outcome of the April 1 election.
“It was a clear mandate,” said Trustee and former Mayor Tyler Stevens during last Tuesday’s victory celebration. Stevens, who has usually sided with Worthey on key issues, went on to say, “The people have spoken.”
A formal changing of the guard will occur on April 15. The outgoing trustees will conduct a few final items of business and then make final comments, prior to the seating of the new board.
Big changes for GMF
With the newly-elected trustees and the re-election of the mayor, major changes are coming in the operations of the town government. For her first two years as mayor, Worthey found herself on the losing side of virtually every key city vote and was frequently chastised by her peers. Now, she will play a stronger role in managing the town and in implementing policies she favors.
But at the same time, a few lingering question remain, such as the status of GMF’s town manager position and the future of a special election on May 20. Plus, Worthey has had a rocky relationship with some trustees, city employees and planners, such as Robert McArthur, the current interim town manager. Already, two members of the planning commission, including veteran chairman Dave Kosley, have resigned in protest against the vote.
Worthey says she appreciates the experience of the current trustees and employees, and the heritage of the community they represent, but says the April 1 vote serves as an indication of a desire for more public transparency and accountability.
“I really want to try to bring the community together,” said the mayor, in an interview last week during which she outlined some of her initial goals. “It’s going to be a lot of work. But it’s an exciting time for Green Mountain Falls.”
She has cited a desire to get rid of the ‘us vs them’ mentality and wants to have more civil meetings. In the past, GMF forums have turned into a modern version of the ‘Wild West,’ highlighted by shouting matches, trustee walkouts and visits to the meeting table by law officers to calm tempers.
But on the top of her action plate is a desire to re-establish the marshal’s office as soon as possible. “I think we can do this. That is my number one priority,” said Worthey.
She plans to ask for a re-evaluation of the city’s budget and do a line-by-line review to come up with funds for a marshal’s office of some type. It is still uncertain if the town can finance as extensive a marshal’s operation as it had in the past.
According to the mayor, with the summer approaching, the town needs to gear up for more visitors and the prospects of public safety concerns. She favors the visibility of a town marshal, rather than turning over these duties to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
And as for the town manger situation, the re-elected mayor says she isn’t against the idea, but strongly opposes the way it was handled and rushed through the process. “We need to re-establish the authority of the board,” said Worthey, who said doesn’t see a problem with the former trustee liaison system, with elected leaders overseeing city departments.
She hinted that the board may just rescind the current ordinance establishing the town manager position, and re-start the process. Plus, she wants to talk more with the current city employees to make sure everyone is on the same page.
If the town manager ordinance is rescinded, then the possibility exists that the town may not have to pursue a special election on May 20. There is still a question about a recall vote against current trustees Ralph LoCascio and Howard Price.
However, with the new board lineup, the importance of this vote is questionable.
And as for the subject of citizen input, Worthey and several of the new trustees want to change recently-enacted policies that some see as clamping down on public input at meetings, such as forcing people to sign designated sheets and to state their subject matter, prior to speaking at local meetings. Also, the mayor supports a more open social media policy.
However, the new board will face some surmountable hurdles. One of the big action items deals with the new town hall project. Newberry had served as the public information officer for this project, while McArthur played a big role in garnering grants for the effort and working with the architecture team. Worthey and the new trustees had little involvement in the project. According to the timeline, this project is ready for ground-breaking with the hope of having a new $800,000 town hall constructed by Labor Day or early fall 2014.
The new board must also deal with influential citizens and planning commissioners who have some strong concerns about the competency of the incumbent mayor. Outgoing Trustee Mac Pitrone submitted a letter to local residents outlining 15 major concerns about Worthey and contending that she is not capable of serving as mayor. Plus, McArthur submitted a controversial letter to the local media that indirectly accused Worthey and the Concerned Citizens of Green Mountain Falls group of engineering a hostile takeover of the town government that could bankrupt the town and force it to become unincorporated. And in a rare move, the local planning commission endorsed her opponent.
Worthey admits the mayoral campaign got extremely ugly. “I have never gone through anything like this,” said the mayor, who contends she tried to take the high road and avoid any mud-slinging.
With the election finalized, she believes it’s time for the community to heal.