by Rick Langenberg:
Chance drawing stirs complaints
It’s wasn’t the most ideal way to gain the most distinguished elected seat in Woodland Park. But Neil Levy, a well-known community leader, restaurant owner and coach has become the new WP mayor. His path to victory over four other rivals was eventually determined by complete chance through the unusual process of tossing and pulling names out of a bowl by city officials.
Levy’s selection followed several hours of presentations and questions and endorsements by community leaders with a hefty field of five mayoral candidates. The council, though, was deadlocked over Levy and former councilman Phil Mella with 3-3 tallies. The council even tried to break the tie by asking both final contenders more questions. But this resulted in the same tie vote.
Finally, city officials had to resort to the old-fashioned, small town folksy technique of picking a name from a bowl, with Levy winning the draw. According to City Manager David Buttery, this issue of a tie verdict for an appointment is not addressed by the Woodland Park charter or through any state rules. At the outset, Buttery said he was open to other suggestions. He warned the audience and the candidates about the possibility of a “chance draw” with such stern competition.
The “chance draw” selection process, however, has stirred many complaints by some citizens who attended the council appointment session. A surprisingly large crowd attended the proceedings.
Similar to a deadlock with a jury, several audience members contacted The Mountain Jackpot in the last week and stressed that both finalists should have endured another round or possibly more of questions. Critics of the process maintained that it drew comparisons to an episode from ” Mayberry R.F.D. “and gave Woodland Park a bad reputation. “This was an insult,” said several outraged residents, who attended the special meeting.
Levy, the eventual winner, doesn’t need any introductions. He has run and operated the Swiss Chalet restaurant, Woodland Park’s most successful fine dining establishment, for many years. Also, Levy has served on the board of directors for the chamber of commerce and has been a big proponent of school athletic programs and even tried to lead a ballot initiative for a former recreation center. During his presentation and round of questions, Levy cited his strengths as a “team-builder” and his leadership abilities. “I am not the smartest person in the room,” said Levy on several occasions. “My strength is in the people I know.”
In one of his boldest statements, the new mayor indicated he supported opening the door to the retail sales of marijuana. “Marijuana is here to stay,” said Levy, who mentioned the tax revenue this could provide the city. “We should have a ballot initiative.” The city has currently enacted a ban against recreational marijuana outlets, but it can reverse this stand.
Levy also cited a desire to revive the mayoral seat by having a more active relationship with the media. By contrast, Mella emphasized his detailed experience on the city council. He said he knew how to deal with controversy, citing the hours of testimony he and previous council members endured in dealing with the Wal-Mart development issue. “I will hit the ground running,” said Mella. “The experience of six years (on the council) is crucial.”
Mella described himself as a leader committed to “fiscal integrity” and in bringing more people to Woodland Park. As for other candidates, current councilman Gary Brovetto expressed his commitment to the Main Street program and in reviving downtown Woodland Park. The other contenders were U.S. Navy veteran Gretchen Bundy-Ladowicz and business manager and professional speaker/author Mike Maddux.
In some ways, they presented the most unique candidacies, but lacked the familiarity of the other contenders. During a series of public candidate endorsements from members of the community, it became clear that the contest hinged on a showdown between Mella and Levy.
Mella actually took the initial lead with a 3-2 edge over Levy and one tally for Brovetto during the initial vote. But during two subsequent votes between the two finalists, the council remained deadlocked. In order to receive a council appointment, a candidate had to get four votes. This led to the grand pick from a bowl, orchestrated by Buttery and City Clerk Cindy Morse.
The appointment process was done slightly different than past council picks. The candidates were not sequestered and could listen to all presentations and questions. And the vote was conducted through a complete secret ballot process in which the picks of each council member weren’t made public.