More peaceful times for GMF politics?
~ by Rick Langenberg ~
Gone are the days when Green Mountain Falls’ elected leaders spent hours engaging in finger pointing duels and screaming matches, while staff members ducked their heads in disgust and residents went home from meetings with frayed nerves.
Also, gone are the days when the town always had an ongoing controversy over law enforcement, public safety and certain GMF managers/employees.
Instead, team work and better strategic planning have become the key goals for the town government. In addition, the lake and the Gazebo area reign as the crown jewel of the community. Moreover, the town is pursuing an ambitious $500,000-plus improvement project to improve this central feature of GMF, with the help of Uncle Sam and the state.
These emerged as some of main themes emphasized by GMF Mayor Jane Newberry during a mayoral forum, hosted by the Green Box Arts Festival at the Church in the Wildwood last week. This forum was one of the new features of the annual Green Box Arts festival.
Newberry cited the town’s new cadre of employees and administrators as an area of definite improvement for GMF. More specifically, she cited the hiring of new marshal Virgil Hodges as a great asset. She assured residents that the new marshal stressed educating citizens/visitors on laws, rather than taking a hardline stance through a bombardment of citations. “He is a good fit for this town,” said the mayor.
And with the addition of new town manager Verla Bruner, Newberry said the trustees have been relieved of handing day-to-day operations.
Under a relatively new system of government for GMF, the trustees now address more strategic planning and long-term policies, while the town manager/head clerk serves as the main boss of personnel and day-to-day functioning of the government.
She said the new approach stemmed from a temporary, pilot program, funded mostly by the state, which received a positive response. This occurred when the town hired John Pick as an interim town manager and town clerk through a state contract for six months for close to $50,000.
In addition, she cited the work of Deputy Clerk Renee Price and Public Works Director RJ Viers, who are the most experienced members of the town government.
“We have people who work as a team,” said Newberry, who noted that this is an attribute of the town government that has been lacking in the past.
But she admitted this new direction isn’t without its obstacles. She said town leaders are now evaluating the town’s commissions, list of appointed volunteers and local ordinances, often viewed as tedious but necessary tasks.
And at times, these reviews create tension. Recently, the town approved the initial reading of a new ordinance that would create a park and recreation advisory committee. But this objective has raised the ire of some key volunteers and residents associated with the trails committee, who accuse leaders of too much micro-management and trying to fix a system that isn’t broken. A public hearing is slated for July 18 to further evaluate this step.
Tending to the crown jewel of GMF
Newberry also touted the importance of the lake revival project.
She said the town is eying many grants to vastly enhance this feature through a multi-year project that could exceed the half a million mark. “I am optimistic,” said Newberry, in regards to the town’s prospects of receiving grant funds from a variety of state and federal agencies.
But she stressed this project won’t occur overnight, and could take decades to fully develop. “The lake is our jewel,” said the mayor. “This is a 50-year plan.”
Part of the project will involve making the lake more accessible and aesthetic for fishing buffs, and to make it more of a natural body of water that meshes well with surrounding streams and rivers. It also would look so much more appealing, noted the mayor. Other features include a new bridge to the Gazebo, a vastly improved trail system and fishing pier.
She admits the town still faces daily challenges, such as a possible over-population of the town’s waterfowl and geese habitat, and the health of many trees on private/public properties.
Plus, several residents raised big questions about emergency responses for handling another Waldo Canyon fire. “We (members of the trustees) went door-to-door,” said Newberry, in describing the evacuations that occurred in the summer of 2012, when the town was struck by the Waldo disaster and residents were under a mandatory evacuation order for nearly two weeks.
According to Newberry, the town still hasn’t advanced much more in developing a sure way to alert residents regarding emergencies, other than through the reverse 911 call systems, social media and traditional media outlets. Public Works Director RJ Viers cited this as one of their top priority communications projects.
The mayor told the residents that the town is trying to improve its website, and may employ a new entity to host it other than El Paso County. In addition, she said officials are in the process of staring a town government Facebook page to have more interaction with citizens.
She also advised citizens that plans are advancing for the development of a new fire station, behind town hall. But again, Newberry stressed that this could become a long-range project. Town leaders recently approved a subdivision for the projects, but raised a slew of questions regarding drainage.