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A meeting to nowhere: move to change ordinance a dud

by Bill Knowles
WALSENBURG- A workshop held by the city to look into possible changes to Ordinance 967 fell short of generating any enthusiasm for the changes proposed by Mayor Bruce Quintana.
The idea drew the immediate ire of Council Member Erin Jerant, who noted that the mayor currently has a fulltime job. “I’m against changing the ordinance. The mayor has a fulltime job already.” Her comment implied that if the council chose to establish a strong mayor form of government, it would be difficult for any council member, including the mayor, to oversee the city on a day-to-day basis.
City Attorney Dan Hyatt sent written correspondence to the council two weeks ago, explaining the strong-mayor/weak-mayor form of government. The mayor has insisted that the changes would make administration more accountable.
Ordinance 967 was passed during the last city council when Edith Sheldon was mayor and Bruce Quintana was mayor pro tem. It was passed unanimously at the time. Mayor Quintana is currently arguing that laws change and are upgraded all the time. The ordinance sets up the job description and authority of the city administrator. It was passed just before Alan Hein took over the reins of the city in April 2009 and has been an underlying bone of contention between some on the city council, some of the city’s employees and at least two former city administrators.
Former administrator Hein, in a effort to salvage the city’s 2010 budget, had to lay off about 10 city employees, setting off a series of verbal complaints by some of the remaining employees concerning Hein’s management skills. Several city employees took their complaints to the mayor, even voicing them in public along with written letters to the editors of the area’s two newspapers. The complaints continued through the tenure of Don Saling, who resigned as city administrator earlier this month.
A disagreement on how the city’s financials were being handled along with an alleged $2 million shortfall in the 2011 budget prompted a meeting between the city’s administrator, finance director, the mayor, the city’s treasurer and the publisher and editor of the Signature in December 2010. The mayor recently accused Saling of lying about the content of the December meeting. This accusation brought about Saling’s resignation and the move to change Ordinance 967.
The changes call for the administrator to work under the “oversight” and control of the mayor and the city council. The ordinance calls for the administrator’s pay and benefits to be structured and “the rate set by the mayor and city council.” It also allows for those rates to be “reviewed as frequently as is seen fit by the mayor and city council.” The administrator’s rate and pay has typically been set in the contract the city enters into with the administrator at the time of hire.
Former council members Edie Flanagin and Larry Patrick addressed the issue and explained why the former city council had passed the ordinance. “We established this ordinance for the purpose of having a professional administrator. It is the job of the council to set policy. Applying those policies is the job of the administrator.” Flanagin said.
“If you decide to change this ordinance, it will take 60 days to go into effect,” Patrick noted. Any administrator brought in would be hamstrung until the new ordinance took effect.
After an hour the workshop wound down with no consensus being reached, and the idea seemed to die.