Zoom Cutoff Ends; Stage Set For More Public Comment
It was in with the new and out with the old, with an official changing of the leadership guard in Green Mountain Falls.
And with this change, the new cadre of leaders want to open the door for more public access by bringing back the Zoom Video Communications system for online participation at public meetings, with certain limitations. Plus, they want to encourage more public comment by doing away with some of the early sign-up rules and allowing for this commentary to occur at the beginning of every session, and not at the tail end.
In addition, the town welcomed a new marshal, Sean Goings, who took the reins of the former law enforcement leader position, held by Virgil Hodges. Goings is a familiar face, serving as deputy marshal since 2017, and as a safety coordinator for the Woodland Park RE-2 School District.
Outgoing Mayor Jane Newberry, a local volunteer for close to 20 years, made a small farewell speech, expressing her appreciation for the support she received from GMF citizens.
The changing of the guard ceremony occurred before a standing-room crowd last week in what was probably one of the biggest crowds to attend a trustees’ meeting for a forum that really didn’t deal with any controversial subjects.
New board members, including Mayor Todd Dixon, new trustees Sean Ives and Nick Donzello took their respective oaths. Trustee Sunde King also resumed her oath of office for a full term. King first joined the board to fill a vacancy, and oddly enough, edged past Dixon in snagging that particular appointment spot.
They join Katharine Guthrie, who still has several years left for her term, in representing the new board.
In other procedural matters, King got the unanimous nod as the mayor pro tem.
Prior to giving up her seat, Newberry thanked the citizens of Green Mountain Falls for their support. She has served as mayor for six years, and as a trustee for another 11 years.
“This has been a long ride for me,” said Newberry, who cited the fact that she has been a town volunteer of some capacity in GMF for 17 years. “Some has been hard,” admitted the former mayor. “There has been an equal amount of joy and triumph.”
As far as regrets, she said she wished the new board had undergone an actual election, so they could get input from all facets of the community, and not necessarily from the “loudest voices.”
She said she did her best to represent GMF on a local and regional level, often overcoming certain perceptions of GMF as a Mayberry R.F.D. type of a small community. “This is our home,” said the departing mayor, who said the profile of GMF was raised significantly during her time as mayor.
During her stint as mayor, Newberry emerged as a big proponent of the town manager from of government, and heavily praised former GMF boss Angie Sprang, who served as the town manager for a little more than two years. She also supported the new paid-parking system on the weekends, and played a role in spearheading significant grants at the Gazebo lake park.
But on the downside, her tenure was not without controversies. The former mayor often had strained relations with a number of longtime volunteers and groups, such as the former trails committee, and even with certain downtown businesses. However, Newberry gained strong support from elected leaders in the area.
Dixon praised her leadership, shortly after taking the oath. A special potluck feast was held on honor of the former mayor and trustees on Thursday night.
New changes announced by mayor
Even with these kind words and festivities, the new GMF board of trustees has indicated a desire to do some things differently from the tone set by the previous administration.
At the very outset of last week’s meeting, Dixon immediately spoke in favor of bringing back the Zoom system. This video conferencing set-up, heavily used during the pandemic, was suspended several months ago. The board of trustees wanted to have in-person attendance. It did permit the live recording of meetings, available through You Tube.
This decision, though, generated much opposition locally, as the Zoom outlet became a popular form of meeting participation, especially during the pandemic, when town hall was closed to the public for safety reasons and all business was conducted online.
Newberry, the main endorser of the plan to disable Zoom, maintained that the system was hurting the small town character of GMF, and almost increasing partisan tensions; and in effect, de-humanizing the town. In some ways, her comments reflected concerns about social media as a whole.
But even though the trustees have agreed to bring back Zoom, they plan to disable the chat feature or heavily monitor this capability.
“It must be properly done,” said King, who classified herself as a big proponent of zoom, noting that it increased meeting participation.
King suggested that the chat feature, which in the past was often bombarded with many negative comments against the town administration, be disabled or restricted.
“I found it distracting,” said Guthrie. She cited problems with a plethora of comments from people not identified on the Zoom set-system.
Town Clerk Nate Scott cautioned that this feature may not be able to be eliminated. At the very least, he said the town could set ground rules for using this feature.
The GMF Trustees agreed to bring back Zoom for meeting participation and to disable or silence the chat feature.
In another change, town leaders opted to have public comments, aired at the beginning of their sessions, until waiting until the end. Plus, they don’t want to require a preliminary pre-meeting sign-up registration, the policy set by the previous administration.
In earlier months, GMF meetings often were quite lively, especially as the issues of paid-parking and trail access occurred. At times, the former town manager found herself under fire.
However, in recent months, the often divisive rhetoric has been toned down, with most meetings becoming uneventful. This is much different than the distant past. A number of years ago, the town marshal had to actually stop the proceedings to avoid any potential fist fights.
In another significant change from the past board, the new cadre of leaders have taken a more pro-trails stand and has authorized money for a volunteer group for maintenance. This is a pursuit that the previous board shied away from.