Gloves Come Off in Skirmish Between Town Committee Leaders and Staff Officials
The familiar “Us Versus Them” fight, involving squabbles between Green Mountain Falls’ volunteer committee leaders and city officials, flared up last week during a heated and lengthy board of trustees meeting.
The forum brought back memories of the trustees’ more wilder sessions, when it debated a paid-parking system and trail closures several years ago.
Tensions didn’t quite get to that extreme as those former wild days, when Zoom-only meetings became the norm and the GMF sessions often became the best entertainment in the Ute Pass on a Tuesday evening. However, the meeting probably ranked as one of the most contentious under the current reign of GMF Mayor Todd Dixon.
This time, the main areas of debate dealt with concerns over roads, fire mitigation, public works resources, capital improvements, public transparency and ways to improve the town.
Several key volunteer leaders presented a series of reports, aimed at providing input to the town’s strategic master plan. These reports outlined the success of their groups and a laundry list of areas of needed town improvements. Some of these suggestions dealt with increasing public works resources and having more employee accountability and transparency.
But the perceived critique of the town staff ignited definite sparks, with the elected officials making it clear they support the work of their current lineup of employees. At the same time, the trustees suggested another workshop is needed to review the ideas presented by key volunteer committee leaders and possibly to soothe tensions
Last week’s three-hour-plus session covered a wide range of subjects, running the gamut from a comprehensive road improvement study update and town investments, to Gazebo bridge grants and infrastructure enhancements.
Trustees Support Current Staff
But the issue that took center stage dealt with the reports made by several key subcommittee leaders who made recommendations that some trustees and staff took as an outright attack.
Town Manager Becky Frank later in the meeting referred to the committee leaders’ assessment as outright unrealistic with the current resources available to the town.
“It is a bummer,” said Town Clerk and Treasurer Bo Ayad, in commenting too regarding the committee leaders’ assessment of the city staff. “There is a disconnect.”
Those comments were mild compared to the staunch counter-punch delivered by Marshal Sean Goings, who came out verbally swinging. “I don’t understand the problems this group has,” blasted Goings. He expressed much dismay with the critique done on his office regarding the lack of coverage in the evenings and on weekends.
He noted that his office does the best it can to provide adequate law enforcement protection with its limited ability to provide 70 hours of protection a week. Plus, the marshal cited an incident report volume that has significantly increased every month.
He was responding to a conclusion by the volunteer leaders, stating, “the lack of law enforcement presence during high priority times (working weekday mornings, vs. weekends and nights) as well as the lack of designated parks employees during the high season and lifeguards during posted pool hours indicate a perceived failure in the management of town staff. Who is accountable to this and to what extent?”
This comment, along with public statements made by a few of the volunteer group leaders, including David Douglas, Lamar Mathews and Jesse Stroope, at last week’s forum definitely rubbed staff officials and a few trustees the wrong way.
Some committee leaders made complaints regarding equipment malfunctioning constantly; and raised questions about the inability of the town to come up with matches for significant grants and a lack of resources with private individuals sometimes mowing the lawns of public parks and doing the work of the public works department.
Well, welcome to the new era of municipal government for a small mountain community facing significant staff shortages and a super tight budget, countered town officials.
Frank told the trustees that the town has dedicated employees who could easily work elsewhere, but are committed to the town. “They are making a difference,” said Frank, who praised the current group of employees.
Mayor Todd Dixon came to their defense, saying the town is clearly understaffed. From his personal observations, he said a considerable amount of work is being done by the town staff. He admitted that Mother Nature hasn’t helped the situation, delivering huge storms rights after roads had been restored. “It is frustrating,” said the mayor.
Trustee Kathryn Guthrie agreed and also complimented the staff. She said public works’ personnel shortages are being experienced by all governments in the region, and not just Green Mountain Falls.
The key volunteer leaders, in their reports, mainly cited such issues as fire mitigation, public safety, road improvements, town beautification, ordinance enforcement and the development of a better staging area for storing equipment for big projects and more.
Report Receives Mixed Conclusions
Their report initially got mixed reviews from the trustees. Trustees Sean Ives and Nick Donzello complimented the committee volunteers for the work it does for the town. “You are the backbone (of the community),”said Donzello.
Dixon, though, admitted some disappointment with their conclusions and said he was expecting more of a strategic game plan for ways to address these problems. “I was expecting something different,” said the mayor.
But volunteer group members said that providing a strategic road map, with specific funding dollars, is more of a trustee and council responsibility. Douglas stated they have done that in the past during budget sessions, but didn’t get much support.
“There is a lack of transparency,” blasted Douglas, at one point in last week’s discussion. “There is a huge deficit,” said Stroope, in regards to the time dedicated by town volunteers versus the resources provided by town staff.
Douglas said their report really was done to serve as the sounding board for the residents. “This is what the citizens are telling you what the priorities are. This is the voice of the town,” said Douglas.
The volunteer leaders mainly gave a big rallying cry for the trustees to address fire mitigation and roads, like never before. They cited these issues as the main priorities for the town, based on the comments they have received from residents.
In other trustee action, Frank reported last week that the town was successful in landing a significant grant for improving the Gazebo bridge, which nearly hit the $140,000 level. Also, town leaders heard an updated report regarding its comprehensive road improvement plan.
The trustees and the mayor urged that this report get finalized. “Time is of the essence,” said the mayor, when addressing the plan authors, representatives of the Colorado Springs-based Wilson and Company. A key representative of the company, Andre Brackin, described the plan as a detailed maintenance blueprint for all the roads within the town, rather than a capital improvement study.