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City Council divided on weak or strong mayor

by Bill Knowles
WALSENBURG- In a protracted meeting that took around three hours, the Walsenburg City Council found itself again facing circumstances that threaten the forward movement of two large projects which the state has mandated the city complete.
With the resignation of Interim City Administrator Don Saling, the city is currently looking for a replacement who, according to Council Member Jim Moore, should be able to work with the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), the City Municipal League (CML), and the USDA. The three agencies have been struggling over the past two years, along with two Walsenburg city administrators, to build financing that will fund the Northlands sewer project and fix the city’s water tank.
“I think we should contact DOLA and the USDA and see who they might recommend. We are hinging on the edge of losing money for several projects if we don’t keep that connection alive. We really should chose someone they can work with. Lee Merkel at DOLA and the others have been working on the financing of the Northlands project and the water tank project for about two years,” Moore said. “If we choose someone they can’t work with, then they’ve wasted two years of their time.”
Mayor Quintana said he would like to advertise locally. “I think we should advertise locally for an interim administrator. I think what the city of Walsenburg really needs is someone local who has the knowledge and the abilities.”
“That someone local needs to be on the CML listing. We don’t need someone who can’t pick up the ball and carry it,” Moore said. “If we don’t have someone with the background stepping in shortly, then the Northlands is dead.”
“I believe there’s someone with 31 years experience,” Quintana said. When asked by Moore who he had in mind, Quintana said, “That person is Cathy Pineda.”
“Oh my God,” council member Erin Jerant said. The mayor told her to keep her personal comments to herself. “I can say ‘Oh my God’,” Jerant said. “I believe we’re in this position because you put us in this position.”
“We received something from the city attorney Dan Hyatt that says if we’re going to change the city administrator, if there’s anything we want to take out of this or add to this, this is the time to do it.” Jerant was making reference to Ordinance 967.
Ordinance 967 defines what the city administrator does and doesn’t do. It is a job description. In order for a power shift in the city structure from a weak mayor to a strong mayor, ordinance has to be rewritten to take power from the administrator and give it to the mayor.
Under a weak mayor system, all city council members have the same power, all are equal including the mayor. Under a strong mayor system, the mayor is the executive and the city council, the legislative actors. The city administrator does the day-to-day work needed for the city to function.
With a change in city administrators, the city attorney was recommending a change in Ordinance 967 to give the mayor the power a strong mayor needs so the next administrator knows what rules to work by.
The council decided to have a workshop to discuss further the structure of Ordinance 967. They scheduled the workshop for 5 pm on Monday, Aug. 15 at City Hall. The city still has letters of interest from two local residents for the city administrator’s job.
City Council members heard from the Rocky Mountain Sierra Club’s Oil and Gas chairperson, Gopa Ross. Ross encouraged the council to consider joining with Cuchara and La Veta in rewriting a 2006 Rural Water Protection Plan. The plan would allow for baseline testing of wells and monitoring of the drainage into the Cucharas River. The river flows through and provides water for the two largest population centers in Huerfano County. A $5,000 grant is available for funding the rewriting of the plan and will help fund consultant work as well.