Shouting match at end of council session this week
WALSENBURG — Appointed Walsenburg City Clerk Veronica Vigil and Mayor Brian Lalander provided fireworks near the end of the regular election night Nov. 2 meeting, engaging in a shouting match with each other and Vigil saying she had sat back for two years and watched this “sh*tshow.”
Ironically, the heated exchange came during discussion of agenda item 18, entitled Mayor’s Investigation of Citizens Complaints. The matter Lalander investigated concerned allegations made in September at a city council meeting by Vigil. She alleged council member Greg Daniels used foul language aimed at city employees at a curb cut job site this past summer and an alleged verbal confrontation Daniels had with an ex-city employee. Vigil said at the September meeting that she had not witnessed the alleged incidents, but she had heard of them and felt she needed to “address the elephant in the room” following a comment Daniels had made regarding retention of city staff.
Vigil charged that Daniels’ behavior was unprofessional.
Lalander this week, said, while the mayor has the statutory authority to investigate allegations against “officers of the city”, neither he nor any other office at city hall had ever received a written complaint about the alleged incidents. But, he said, he conducted an investigation anyway and asked advice from city attorney Dan Hyatt whether or not he should memorialize his investigation in writing. Hyatt suggested, saying while not statutorily mandated, that Lalander probably should put his report in writing. Lalander said he would do that and make it available for the next council meeting. “I could have taken the easy way out,” Lalander said regarding the absence of any written complaint, “so, I’m going to make sausage in public.”
Lalander said he interviewed five city employees and three citizens, who Vigil said had told her about the incident at the curb cut at Walsen and East Grand and found no proof of the allegations.
He said his investigation did show people had seen Daniels sitting in his private vehicle at the job site, and that council members observing work being done by city employees does not go against any city policies.
Vigil took deep exception to Lalander’s investigation alleging he was conspiring with Daniels to cover up facts. Lalander said he had investigated the complaints and found them baseless, and on the issue of written complaints, he said one person had asked for a grievance form, but never filled it out or returned it to city hall.
Daniels said at the Nov. 2 city council meeting, while he may use foul language in public on occasion, he had never cussed at, given directions to, abused, or chastised city employees.
“You are saying something happened that city staff say didn’t happen,” Lalander told Vigil during their exchange.
In other business:
• Council voted 6-0 with Maes abstaining, on a motion by Daniels “to move forward expeditiously” on obtaining a correct land survey for a small parcel of purported city-owned land on Polk Ave., that is planned to be the location of a new senior citizen’s center. Maes abstained as she is the South Central Council of Governments’ Executive Director of the Area Agency on Aging.
• Hyatt offered his legal opinion, after exhaustive research, on whether or not the recently passed Ordinance 1159 was passed correctly. Ordinance 1159 was a rezoning ordinance associated with the proposed Tom Cave housing project. “Ordinance 1159 was properly adopted on second reading by the City Council,” Hyatt said in his multiple page report. Much of the contention centered on whether or not any actual “objection” letters were received on this issue and whether or not those who did sign letters voicing “concerns” with the project were actually from people who fell within state statute guidelines concerning distance between the property in question and adjoining residences. Carmen J. Lara argued the measurements and percentages were incorrect according to assessor office records. She was corrected by Hyatt who explained how the statute mandates the distances and percentage of households filing complaints are required by state law.
• Council voted, on a motion by Daniels, to expend up to $500 for possible use as financial help for a necessary insurance rider that sponsors of the upcoming Parade of Lights must obtain. Once that is done the city will approve the Nov. 26, 2021 event.
• No action was taken on personnel issues involving position changes and potential salary increases within the gas department in the wake of the retirement of 30-plus year city gas department boss, Art Ortiz.
Maes and other council members indicated they wanted to go over the numbers presented by Walsenburg Administrator Dustin Stambaugh. This agenda item and the agenda item concerning city personnel evaluations for possible merit raise approvals were both moved to the next meeting. The council announced there would be a more formal recognition of Ortiz’s service to the coming at a date in the near future.
• Council approved liquor license renewals for Crafty Canary, Corine’s restaurant, Safeway and the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
Council voted to move into an executive session for a conference with the city attorney on the Farris City Lake outlet issue under CRS 24-6-402)4)(b).
Council members Maes and James Hudgens both attended the meeting via Zoom, while the remainder of the council attended the session in person.