Green Mountain Falls’ Citizens May Vote on Axing Town Manager Position

Rick Langenberg

Enough is enough.

And it’s time for the citizens to have a stronger say in how their government is managed.

These are some of the sentiments of vocal GMF resident Rocco Blasi, chairman of the former trails committee and a former planning commissioner, regarding a proposed ballot issue that could decide the future fate of a question that has generated much debate for the last year:  Should the town continue with its town manager form of government, or revert back  to the trustee liaison system.

This question could cap the forthcoming April ballot. Blasi, who launched the petition drive early last week, only needs a small number of autographs from qualified local electors to qualify for a ballot issue.

This topic has generated considerable discussion with current Mayor Jane Newberry serving as  a huge advocate of the town manager style of leadership.  Under this format, the town manager is in charge of day to day operations and personnel actions, while the board enacts policies.

GMF faces a pivotal election as citizens will pick a new mayor and will vote on three seats, including two four-year terms and one two-year seat.   The only current council member who won’t face re-election is Katharine  Guthrie. Mayor Jane Newberry won’t be able to run again as mayor. (Both Newberry and Trustee Chris Quinn are term-limited for their specific positions.)

The administrative face of Green Mountain Falls. Newly-appointed Clerk/Treasurer Nathan Scott and Town Manager Becky Frank begin their officials duties after getting sworn in last week, while Marshal Virgil Hodges looks on. Hodges announced plans to step down in March. He has been the town’s marshal since late 2017. Photo by Rick Langenberg

“We just can’t afford it,” said Blasi, a familiar speaker at trustee meetings and a staunch critic of the former head boss, Angie Sprang, following last week’s regular meeting, regarding the town manager position setup. During the public comment period at last week’s meeting, and on the town’s Facebook page, Blasi announced the beginning of the ballot initiative drive.

He contends that if the town continues down its current system, led by a paid town manager, GMF could face serious financial woes or have to be in the position of raising taxes.

Plus, from a practical standpoint, Blasi says the system just isn’t working.  “How many town managers have we gone through?  Enough is enough,” said Blasi.

By his count, GMF has experienced at least five town managers in a very short time span. The most long-lasting was Sprang for two years. She also played a big leadership role in the decision to have paid-parking on the weekends during the prime visitation season. This turned into a big controversy last year, and got a cold review by business operators.

Blasi cites skyrocketing administrative expenses, with not enough money being allocated towards such needs as fire mitigation. He believes the trustee system in which elected leaders managed individual departments worked so  much better, and that the town had a much more stable employee base.

He expects the ballot initiative will generate much support.  The issue of a GMF town manager has sparked lively discussions around town, as some residents believe more money should be invested into roads.

The only real problem is timing.  The town has just hired a new town manager, Becky Frank, along with a clerk/treasurer, Nathan Scott.  Both have strong credentials and administrative ties in the region. The town manager system has been in place for a little more than five years, according to current estimates.

However, discussions began  about hiring a town manager began during the time GMF was pursuing a new town hall facility, when its former town hall got burned to the ground from an arson blaze. At the time, Clay Brown, the regional director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), led the charge for GMF to operate through the town manager system.

With the state’s help, the town received grant funds to help fund the position.  It actually has an interim town manager on a trial basis, to review the feasibility of such an approach.

But those monies are no longer available.

Another big proponent of ousting the town manager form of government is planning commissioner Lamar Mathews, who frequently speaks at trustee meetings.

Newly-appointed Green Mountain Falls Clerk/Treasurer Nathan Scott gets congratulated by Mayor Jane Newberry, following last week’s swearing-in ceremony. Photo by Rick Langenberg

The current board, however, is strongly behind the town manager style of government. Newberry, in particular, has strongly advocated this system, and commented extensively on the benefits of employing a town manager at a variety of forums in the last year.

She said the trustee liaison worked at times, but problems did occur with certain elected leaders in their oversight of some employees and departments.  Plus, she contends the liaison system puts a huge unfair burden on volunteers and doesn’t permit a go-to manager person for the citizens.

The board also strongly supported the previous administration, saying the town succeeded in obtaining many grant dollars. When she departed, Sprang stated that the city’s budget was in great shape, citing a fiscal chest of nearly $1.8 million, including much money for infrastructure from grants.

Blasi, though, notes that a good a portion of these grant dollars come from one source.

Zoom Silencing In Question

Besides proposing a return to the trustee liaison system, Blasi last week made a pitch to resume Zoom live broadcasts of their meetings.

GMF now requires in-person attendance for their monthly meetings and doesn’t offer the Zoom option.  This represents a big break from the stance of other entities in the region. It does permit live streaming and meeting access, via U-tube.

“Zoom has made us lose our humanity,” said Newberry in describing the Zoom impacts. “We lose what makes a small town special.”

Both trustees Guthrie and Margaret Peterson agreed with this action, but contended that some technicalities would have to get worked out

Blasi last week maintained that the trustees’ recent decision to do away with Zoom was “troubling, arbitrary and self-serving.”

He says this will reduce local participation in government action and make it difficult for presenters and for out-of-town residents.

Moreover, he says Zoom could be done in a way that limits online criticism, if that is their main concern.  For example, the Teller County commissioners do Zoom for their meetings, but don’t allow comment for Zoom viewers, unless made previously, via email.

The future of Zoom in GMF could become an issue on the 2022 spring election.