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City Clerk blasts Mayor Pro Tem for comment on employee retention

Walsenburg’s contract CPA presents report in work session that shows lots of work needed to fix finances

by E.E.Mullens
WALSENBURG — A seemingly off-hand comment by Walsenburg Mayor Pro Tem Greg Daniels made Tuesday night during discussion of an agenda item concerning pay adjustments for three city employees, was, at the end of the first regularly scheduled third meeting of the month, commented on by current City Clerk Veronica Vigil, who said “it was time to address the elephant in the room.”

Daniels had made a remark that the county was taking employees out from under the city during discussions on the salary adjustment agenda item.  Vigil, who is not running for re-election this November, held her comment until the end of the meeting, but did speak up during the agenda segment that allows for mayor, city council reports, comments and directions.

Vigil accused Daniels of being part of the problem the city has with the retention of staff, citing a pair of incidents she had heard about.  Vigil did not say she was a witness to either of the alleged incidents she recited.  She accused Daniels of harassing a city employee at the county courthouse who had just exited an employment interview.  Daniels denied any harassing behavior, saying he had been at the courthouse registering a tow truck.  Vigil then said she had heard about Daniels “screaming and cussing at” city employees on a job site at Walsen and E. Grand.  She said she had been told about the incident “by a citizen”.  Vigil did not name any of those who had allegedly made the comments to her.

Daniels said he had gone to the job site to inspect the street sweeper machine which he had been advised had a brush roller that was not operating correctly.  He denied any adverse interaction with the employees at the site.  He said, in fact, he had notified city administrator Dustin Stambaugh that he was going to that job site to check out the street sweeper.  The dates of the alleged incidents were not provided by Vigil.  Vigil’s point, stemming from the pay adjustment discussion and vote earlier in the meeting, was that money was not the only reason city employees were leaving for better jobs, and that respect from elected officials was a factor.

The city has lost some senior management staff over the past two years who have cited council interference as part of their decisions to resign.  Both a former public works director and finance director wrote as much in their resignation letters.

As tensions rose, and voices became louder, Mayor Brian Lalander put an end to the argument.  Lalander said there are many reasons the city has an employee retention issue, but he reminded those attending the meeting that he is responsible for investigation of complaints against city council members and other elected city officials or staff who are hired by council.  Those would include the municipal attorney and municipal judge.

Calling it a duty he doesn’t like, Lalander said if there is a complaint against a council member or elected clerk or treasurer, the complaint must be put in writing and addressed to the mayor.  “It’s my job to investigate that kind of complaint,” he said.  Lalander also noted he had never received any written complaint regarding a council member.
Less than ten minutes after the allegations and denials, the mayor called for a motion to adjourn, the motion was made and the meeting ended after approximately two and a half hours.

Item #11 on the agenda, which had prompted Vigil’s remarks to Daniels, had called for a salary adjustment for staffers Cody Salazar, Stephanie Barr and Jesse Pacheco.  The item sought a vote on raising the three employees’ hourly wage to $15.50.  Stambaugh said the staffers deserved the adjustments and they were designed to bring city pay to a competitive rate with surrounding municipalities of similar size in an effort to retain staff and to be able to offer better wages to new hires as well.  Council member Veronica Maes commented that she would like to see all employee evaluations brought up to date, something Stambaugh said was currently in progress.  The motion by council member James Hudgens was passed on a unanimous vote with all council members present.

“Dismal financial information”

Walsenburg has moved away from having a single finance director and has contracted with a certificated public accountant and auditor to work on and plan city financial affairs.  During the work session prior to the regular meeting Sept. 28, council heard a report from CPA Todd Mihelich that showed three city funds, the General Fund, the recently eliminated Internal Services Fund, and Water/Sewer Funds will require further investigations and all three may need to have budget amendments put in place going back to the 2020 city budget.
Mihelich’s report to council also indicated the tax and pledge contributions by Northlands’ property owners need to be looked into and some legal questions need to be answered.  He indicated record keeping concerning the Northlands payment plans need to be brought up to date. He said further investigation was necessary and ongoing.