by Larry Patrick
WALSENBURG- The Walsenburg Police Department got down to ten officers last week as part of the round of layoffs that were to see two officers released. As reported last week in the Huerfano World Journal, Police Chief Larry Baldonado was laid off in a move to save the City of Walsenburg money. Prior to his being laid off, Baldonado was recommending that Officer John Wiggins be one of the officers laid off. Wiggins apparently was looking for another police job anyway and voluntarily accepted the layoff that Baldonado was going to recommend before he was laid off too. By accepting the voluntary layoff, Wiggins prevented another officer from being let go instead. City Administrator Alan Hein told this reporter that he offered Wiggins the chance to stay but that he declined. Hein was planning to lay off a different officer who will remain unnamed.
Following the layoff of Police Chief Baldonado, Hein appointed Lt. Kurt Liebchen as the interim police chief. Liebchen apparently did not want to serve in that capacity, having done so several years ago before Baldonado was hired. Liebchen served as the interim for three days but recommended to Hein that Sgt. James Chamberlain be offered the interim police chief position. Hein made Chamberlain the offer, which he accepted. In doing so, Lt. John Rodriguez was not offered the position although he outranked Chamberlain. But this is not the military and Hein made his choice. Chamberlain has served two tours of duty in Iraq and was raised locally. His mother, Mary Ann heads up Dorcas Circle in Walsenburg.
Hein told the World Journal that he was not personally running the police department, as some thought, after he let Baldonado go. He said Lt. Liebchen was immediately put into that position until he relinquished it to Chamberlain. As City Administrator, Hein oversees the police department but does not and has not had a hand in the daily running of it.
Chamberlain received a small raise with the promotion to interim police chief. Hein says the move to replace Baldonado was a financial one in that he made more money than the rest. Chamberlain is not getting the same money that Baldonado received. According to Hein, “When the City is able to get its financial footing, the position of full time police chief will be advertised.” How long that could be is not known. Chamberlain could apply for the full time position at that time, if he chose to do so.
The City of Walsenburg has completed this second round of lay offs. three people were taken from the water and sewer department and two police officers were let go. You could consider Baldonado as part of the administration department as well as a member of the police department.
With the cuts now and late last year, the City has cut a third of its workforce. Despite the savings in salaries and benefit costs, the City of Walsenburg is still in a tenuous financial position that will cause concern for the rest of this year and maybe beyond.