Woodland Park Council Fails to Appoint New Mayor

Stage set For Hilary LaBarre to Remain “Acting Mayor” For Next Year

Bob Volpe

The Woodland Park City Council last week failed to pick a new mayor, despite five official candidates who sought the job.

As with so many issues that came before this divisive council, the process turned into something akin to a Jerry Springer show.

The process was capped by continual debates among the council members regarding procedures and some wild flourishes, including a speaker who was forcibly ejected from the meeting by a security officer; and one mayoral candidate who brought two puppies to his interview forum, as part of a symbolic gesture.

When Mayor Val Carr passed away due to complications from COVID-19, he left a vacant seat on council. According to the city charter, before the job could be decided by an election, the city had to advertise the position, interview the candidates, and give an up or down vote on a candidate.

At last week’s regular meeting, the council interviewed five candidates. Initially, there were seven applicants, but David Mitchell and Nathan Williams withdrew from the running. The remaining five  candidates included: Michael Dalton, Gary Brovetto, Don Dezellem, Drew Christian Harris and George English.

But as many political insiders predicted, the council couldn’t reach a majority vote on the successor to Carr.  Unless a special election occurs, Mayor Pro Tem Hilary LaBarre will then remain the city’s “acting mayor” until a regular election next year.

Each candidate had five minutes to try and convince council on why they should be appointed, then each council member had 10-minutes to question the candidate.

Each council member was required to ask the same question of each candidate. LaBarre’s question to each candidate was, “What is your experience with Robert’s Rules of Order?” Councilman Pfaff’s question was, “How long have you lived in Woodland Park and what has your experience been since living in the city?” Councilman Rusty Neal asked, “If you are not appointed mayor, what other committee, or board would you consider joining?” Case’s question was, “Why do you want to be mayor?” Councilman Zuluaga’s question was regarding, how the candidate deals with the time dedicated to being mayor and what their temperament. Councilwomen Stephanie Alfieri’s question dealt with funding city projects.

Alfieri then decided to ask Brovetto a question she didn’t ask the other candidates. Alfieri asked Brovetto, “How did that council term end?” Brovetto had served on city council previously and actually played a role in starting the city’s Main Street effort.

Her question, though, prompted a lengthy internal debate among the council members that got pretty heated.

Once each candidate had their say and questions from council were finished, another argument erupted over what to do in the case of a tie vote. But before the dispute over what to do in the case of a tie vote, council took up the issue of whether or not a tie vote would be forwarded to the next meeting, which is the standard procedure. Council voted to suspend the rule. Thus,  in the event of a tie the issue dies on site.

A Deadlocked Council

Once that procedural issue was settled, the debate began over what to do with a tie vote. Zuluaga outlined a complex set of circumstances of “what ifs.” He wondered if a second vote would be taken if there was a tie. Pfaff stated that according to the rules, no second vote could be taken. He said, “We can’t keep taking votes until we eliminate somebody.”

LaBarre explained that since council voted to suspend forwarding a tie to the next meeting, the matter dies. Had council not voted to suspend the forwarding rule, the tie candidates would come back to a future meeting for another vote.

This went round and round with the same questions being asked over and over again,  until council finally voted to suspend the forwarding rule and the vote on candidates proceeded.

Ultimately, Pfaff, Zuluaga, and Alfieri voted for Dezellem, who previously ran for council. Case, LaBarre, and Neal voted “none of the above.”

Thus, the vote did indeed end in a tie and no one was appointed mayor. Many political observers had predicted this outcome, as the current council is usually deadlocked on key issues.

The fate of who will become the next mayor now goes to council to decide if they want to hold a special election, or leave things  as they are now.  It is unlikely council will vote for a special election due to the cost of such an election being approximately $20,000.

Therefore, in all likelihood, LaBarre, the current mayor pro tem, will serve as the acting mayor until the next regular election in April 2022.