Changing of the Guard in Woodland Park Departing WP Leaders Don’t Leave Quietly Rick Langenberg

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Woodland Park’s traditional changing of the guard ceremony featured a barrage of advice from departing leaders and plenty of pats on the back and kudos to the local school district.

Also, the council re-appointed Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey and made specific committee assignments during its post-election kick-off session. And to top the evening off, a slight debate ensued over a proposal for forming a separate committee to bridge possible communications gaps between the city and Charis Bible College.

These are some of the highlights of last week’s council inaugurating ceremony and meeting, following the April 5 municipal election. This marked the end of the council reigns of Bob Carlsen and Phil Mella, who opted to call it quits and didn’t seek to retain their seats. Both Mella and Carlsen are two elected leaders who are known for scrutinizing the city’s budget and the pursuits of the Woodland Park administration. They often found themselves at odds with City Manager David Buttery.

So, not surprisingly, both Mella and Carlsen didn’t surrender their leadership baton without a few parting words.

In making several historic references to World War I and other national conflicts, and quoting such figures as James Madison, Mella encouraged the citizens of Woodland to scrutinize the decisions of their city leaders. He cited a record level of dissatisfaction with all forms of government and the dominance of special interest groups. “That creates a bit of distrust,” said Mella, in hinting that this special interest threat even dominates the local political landscape.

Mella didn’t get into any specifics, but the theme of his speech definitely was highlighted by a desire for the citizens to get more involved in monitoring the decisions of its leaders and the administration. “Scrutinize the actions of elected leaders and safeguard this special bond of trust,” said Mella in offering advice to residents and his peers.

The councilman, who was appointed in the summer of 2014, didn’t agree with his peers on several key issues in recent months.

Mella was the sole council critic of plans for locating an aquatic center next to the high school and voted against a measure that supported a proposed one-penny sales tax hike to assist the RE-2 School District. And in an unusual move, he publicly supported mayoral challenger Noel Sawyer, indicating that Sawyer would be a better government watchdog than the Incumbent candidate, Mayor Neil Levy, who ended up winning the election. Mella also sometimes challenged the authority of Buttery regarding fiscal matters.

Mella, though, didn’t point any fingers during his final farewell comments, but noted that residents shouldn’t wait any longer to get involved in scrutinizing their government leaders.

Carlsen, meanwhile, wasn’t lacking in details in making his final comments as a council member. He noted that when he first ran for office, he campaigned on bringing an aquatic center to the community. Carlsen believes he has fulfilled this objective, with plans moving forward for a new aquatic center next to the high school. “I have accomplished my purpose,” said Carlsen.

But he indicated that the city still has a few lingering issues and needs to develop a more transparent policy in conducting public workshops. He believes these workshops are only attended by a few people and are rarely publicized, despite their strong role in impacting future decisions. According to Carlsen, these should become special meetings and should be held in the council chambers, and not in an upstairs conference room.

Also, the councilman conceded that he is bothered by the remaining county “donut holes” within the Woodland Park area. These involve neighborhoods that are unincorporated, but could be eligible for annexation into the city due to their location, according to the councilman. And Carlsen stated that the city should re-examine its street capital funding process and loosen up the funds allocated from the sales tax, originally approved in 1984. These funds are currently used for road maintenance and paving. But Carlsen suggested expanding the use of these monies to include other capital projects, such as more amenities for the aquatic center or the Meadow Wood ice skating rink.

Both council members were praised by their peers for their knowledge and dedication.

A Charis Bible College Committee?
The new council, which now includes two new members—Val Carr and Paul Saunier—also received its marching orders last week. Specific committee assignments were delegated.

But a few heads were turned when Carr recommended forming a new city committee to deal with issues pertaining to Charis Bible College. Carr stated that this committee could help bridge some communications gaps that exist between the city and Charis.

However, his idea got a rather cold response from Buttery and other council members, who questioned what this would achieve.

“This is not a city department,” said Buttery. “What is the desired outcome?”

Moreover, Buttery and several other city and community leaders, including Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce President Debbie Miller, maintained that they have excellent relations with Charis Bible College. Harvey also questioned the legal ramifications of such a move, noting that the city doesn’t have specific committees for other nonprofits.

“There is a lot of potential conflicts that don’t have to be there,” replied Carr. For example, he stated that many Charis students have raised questions to him about the city’s growth policies. According to Carr, these perceptions could be alleviated by forming a city committee.

As a compromise move, the city agreed to have Charis representatives make annual presentations before the council.

In other action, Levy thanked the citizens for their participation in the election, which set new records for the amount of votes tallied. “Our community is growing. Hats off to everyone for the last election.”

The mayor also congratulated the RE-2 School Board for their successful campaign in convincing voters to approve a sales tax initiative to fund needed improvements. He touted this as an innovative approach by lowering property mill levies. “Your board was phenomenal,” said the mayor. “We all know that sales tax increases are not going to pass on their own merits.”