by Larry Patrick
WALSENBURG- There was just one item on the special meeting agenda on Wednesday, June 30. Although it was about a controversial topic, it did not spark as much attention as an apparently routine hiring matter did.
The special meeting was to extend the moratorium on medical marijuana businesses in Walsenburg. The State Constitution allows medical marijuana businesses, and the city of Walsenburg wanted an additional six months to come up with an ordinance on how to handle the licensing of anyone wanting to have such a business in the city. It passed on a 7-0 vote.
City Councilman Craig Lessar then brought up the hiring of Wendy Ritchie for the utilities department. Assistant Administrator Beth Neece said the hiring was done because the workload couldn’t be handled with the departure of Finance Director Krystel Vigil two weeks ago. Vigil had vacation time accumulated and left the day after tendering her resignation.
Lessar asked if this was a temporary hire to be terminated after a new finance director is hired and Neece said it was a permanent hire. Councilwoman Jerant then asked why the position wasn’t advertised. Neece said that Ritchie had worked for the city the past year until the grant paying her salary ran out. She had gone to work with another company and wouldn’t quit for a part-time position with the city. So she was rehired fulltime and had the year’s experience needed to do the job.
Jerant argued that since Ritchie was originally hired under the Rocky Mountain Ser senior program at no charge to the city, technically she wasn’t hired a year ago. Neece said this was an emergency situation that required action because the city could not afford to get behind on necessary work affecting the city and its citizens in the utility department. Neece said more information will be forthcoming but she wasn’t prepared to discuss it further since it wasn’t an agenda item.
With the layoffs of employees in the past six months, the hiring caught many city council members by surprise. However, the city council has not voted to put on a hiring freeze.