Mutiny in the Falls

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GMF government walk-out continues

by Rick Langenberg:

 

Green Mountain Falls residents and visitors to the Ute Pass community may want to pray for sunny days in the next few months, unless they plan to rent a grader.

Last week, in an apparent protest against the new GMF leadership guard and many probable operational changes, the entire public works crew, including the department director and all local workers who do streets maintenance and parks work, hastily quit without any notice. In fact, since the April 1 election, the town has received nearly 10 resignations from former planners, trustees and city employees.

The biggest impact, though, came from the walk-out by the entire streets maintenance and parks crew, who followed the departure of their head boss, Interim Town Manager and Public Works Director Rob McArthur. McArthur was stripped of his “town manager” designation last week, as part of a plan to kill a previous law that authorized this position. The mass departure of the local GMF workers couldn’t have occurred at a worst time, as shortly after they left, the Ute Pass area got bombarded by a sudden snow storm Wednesday afternoon. Conditions were extremely dangerous even on the main road, requiring many residents to either park their vehicles or venture across town in four-wheel drive vehicles.

Mayor Lorrie Worthey said she and Trustee Dave Cook, the public works liaison, made emergency calls for assistance to the cities of Woodland Park and Manitou Springs and El Paso County as late as midnight that evening. But she said many of the roads weren’t plowed until the following day.

According to Worthey, the town received much cooperation from neighboring entities, who have agreed to assist GMF for future snow plow and relate- weather events. “They have agreed to help us on a stand-by basis,” said Worthey. “We will be covered.”

The mayor, though, was surprised by the departure of a complete department. “That was very unprofessional,” remarked the mayor, in describing the mass departure of the public works and street crews without any advanced warning. “That wasn’t a good thing. The citizens are the ones being punished.” She doesn’t believe this action was in response to the slew of new resolutions the board passed last week, establishing a variety of new policies in the operations of the town. “I don’t think they left because of the resolutions. I think they are just unhappy because they didn’t get their way,” said Worthey.

The mayor was referring to the results of the April 1 election during which residents gave Worthey and a slate of candidates who campaigned on the same platform of change a big mandate.

But former Mayor Pro Tem Jane Newberry, who has close ties with the city workers, refers to the action as a response to a growing move to create a “hostile work environment. As I have said before, this is ‘Operation Clean Sweep,’” said Newberry in describing the intention of new board to get rid of all local employees and even trustees and planners who don’t agree with their agenda. “They (local workers) saw the writing on the wall. Who wants to work in a place where you know you are going to get fired. I don’t blame them at all.” Moreover, Newberry and departing trustee Margaret Peterson, raised questions in their final comments as board members about the new leaders’ intention to completely dismantle the public works department and contract these street maintenance duties out to El Paso County. According to Newberry, officials from El Paso County, following the election, conducted an inventory of the equipment GMF had in store at its maintenance yard. She also alleged that some type of contact was made between the new board and El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark regarding the future of the town’s public works department.

Newberry warned the board that contracting these types of services to El Paso County could create bad consequences for the town, and threaten the grant funds it receives from the Pikes Peak Regional Rural Transportation Authority. Peterson also raised a red flag. “Personally, I am very concerned with the possibility of the county taking over (street) maintenance. It is the town of Green Mountain Falls. That is a decision to be made at the town level.”

The trustee, who lost in her bid for re-election, stressed that local road maintenance service has greatly improved in the last several years. She noted that in the past residents had to deal with frequently washed-out and deteriorating roads and park their cars in town and walk to their homes. “You are letting these people walk out the door,” added Trustee Mac Pitrone, just prior to the new leaders taking office, in talking about the loyal GMF workers and especially the work of McArthur. But Worthey denied that such talks between the board and El Paso County have occurred. In fact, she says town leaders wants to reform the streets and parks divisions as soon as possible. She said the town doesn’t have any intention to hand these duties over to El Paso County.

However, in the meantime, she cautioned that routine road maintenance service in some residential areas may be limited due to the lack of a regular crew. The mayor said arrangements have been made with El Paso County and neighboring entities, but only for inclement weather events.

In the wake of the departure of the streets maintenance and parks crew, town leaders decided to accelerate plans to rehire Tim Bradley, the former town marshal. Bradley was sworn into office Friday afternoon, less than three days after the new board took office. The decision to hire Bradley, and to allow him to use a canine service dog, was one of seven new policy decisions the board enacted during their inaugural meeting.