Woodland Park To Go Mayor-less Until Next Election

Council to Operate With Five-Member Panel; Mayor-Pro Tem Placed In Charge

Bob Volpe

Last week’s regular meeting of the Woodland Park City Council tackled a variety of issues, capped by a decision on whether to appoint another council member and revisit the option of picking a permanent mayor.

Foremost on the agenda was a discussion of whether or not to fill the seat vacated by former councilman Jim Pfaff, and the implementation of water restrictions in the city.

Councilman Robert Zuluaga started the discussion questioning whether or not council had to fill the vacancy.

He outlined the options as the following: “We either bring this to the table, revisit a motion to have a vote; we leave the mayor pro tem acting mayor; we hold a special election. Are those the three options?”

He touched on the city charter’s statement that only two appointments could be made without the necessity of holding a special election. Oddly enough, council could pick a random person off the street and appoint that person mayor, if they so choose.

The issue, however, gets complicated, if Mayor Pro Tem Hilary LaBarre, is officially appointed mayor. Should that occur, there would be an empty seat for LaBarre’s regular council seat, and Pfaff’s empty seat. This would be illegal, according to the charter, as that would be three appointments.

The charter states only two appointments could be made to fill vacancies without a special election.

Zuluaga then questioned city attorney Nina Williams regarding the removal of the charter requirement to put vacancies out to the public for 30-days that happened at the last revision of the charter.

Williams responded, “A vacancy “shall” be filled by a majority vote of council after the vacancy occurs provided there is not a regular election within 90-days of the vacancy.” She also said, “Doing nothing is an option.”

Zuluaga was confused by the word, “shall” in the language. He felt the word shall means council must appoint someone. Williams explained that since the time limit was removed, council does have the option to do nothing.

LaBarre mentioned another option. She said, “We don’t necessarily have to take applications and interviews. We can also come to a consensus to take the person who had the second highest votes in the last election.” Councilwoman Stephanie Alfieri beat Catherine Nakai in a close election last November.  This option could put Nakai in Pfaff’s seat should council decide to follow LaBarre’s suggestion.

However, Alfieri stated she was happy with having a five-person council as long as the city’s business is  being done. She said she was fine with leaving it status quo, with five  members until the next election in April 2022.

This prompted Councilman Rusty Neal to question this scenario.  Neal said, “I hope the citizens who have been paying attention over the past year having seen how the votes have gone. There’s been a grouping of four, then a grouping of three…When I hear her say she’s comfortable with it knowing that when you look historically back, you would be kind of putting yourself in a minority. What you’re saying to me is you trust the five people that are left that we do work together.”

Zuluaga pushed to have the mayor’s seat revisited, but council came to the consensus to leave a five-member panel until the next election. Under this system, LaBarre, the current mayor pro tem, will serve as acting mayor.

Water Restrictions Enacted

Late into the evening, Utilities Director Kip Wiley asked council to pass Resolution 876, instituting Level 2 water restrictions in the city beginning on May 13. Wiley gave a detailed presentation on the state of the city’s water supply and historic trends when drought conditions prevail on the city. He explained the city’s main sources of water are from the Arkansas River basin and the Colorado River basin. Both of these drainages are well below normal levels for snowfall, which is where much of our water comes from.

A similar level of restrictions has already been implemented in Manitou Springs.

Level 2 water restrictions include: Outdoor watering limited to two-days a week, May-September with set hours. October-April watering is allowed anytime when the temperature is above 32-degrees. Public sports fields may be watered four-days a week, trees, flowers, and shrubs may be hand watered conservatively any day of the week, and no watering when winds are above 10 miles-per-hour.

Council debated the issue for some time. Alfieri was concerned about placing water restrictions without an expiration date. She insisted a date be set to end restrictions and revisit the issue if needed.

Wiley explained you cannot put an expiration date on a drought. He suggested that the city we wait and see what next year’s snowfall results yield before ending restrictions. After much back and forth, council relented to Alfieri’s insistence on an expiration date and voted to make the date April 30 of 2022 or earlier if conditions improve.