by Larry Patrick
WALSENBURG- Now that Interim City Administrator Don Saling has resigned over a dispute with Mayor Bruce Quintana, what should happen next? The answer is simple enough: the city should find another interim and, at the same time, take applications and begin the 3-4 month process to hire someone fulltime.
Some city council members are upset with the mayor over the circumstances which led to Interim Administrator Saling’s resignation. Saling had stated he would not tolerate abuse by the mayor and resigned. Saling has left just when some city council members were expecting him to take the city administrator position fulltime. Former city administrator Alan Hein also resigned in part because of alleged interference by Mayor Quintana with Hein’s duties. In addition, Hein was in poor health. Beginning a search now presents at least three problems. First, it means the city will have to seek a new leader after the school year begins, and many potential applicants are settled in elsewhere. Second, the election for mayor and city council is coming up Nov. 1, about the time decisions on a new city administrator could be made. However, a new administrator would feel more comfortable taking a job after the election in order to know who they will be working for in January. Third, the deadline for preparing the budget for the coming year is fast approaching. The mayor and most members of city council will have to leave most of that work up to Assistant Administrator Beth Neece, Finance Director Dave Johnston & City Treasurer Jacque Sikes along with the new interim administrator.
Why is Walsenburg losing all of these professional administrators? The city ordinance states the city council will set policy and then let administrators do their job of managing the city while making city council policy happen. That is what administrators are trained to do. However, all three former city administrators, Eric Pearson, Alan Hein and Don Saling can cite problems with interference in their day-to-day duties or in employee matters from either the Mayor or some city council members, past or present.
The current mayor and city council are now beginning their second changeover of administration officials in their two years in office. Since their election in 2009, two city administrators, a city clerk, a finance director and an IT person have left, some unhappy with their elected officials. Saling was picked by the current city council after Hein’s resignation and now he is gone over a rift with the mayor. Saling and new Finance Director Dave Johnston have been considered solid hires, but one has already left the building.
Mayor Quintana is now pushing to change the ordinance from a weak-mayor form of government to a strong-mayor form to give him more power over the city council and city administrator. A public meeting is scheduled for Aug. 15 at 5 pm to discuss possible changes.
Assistant Administrator Beth Neece has been a stabilizing influence during these times of turmoil. She assisted Interim Administrator Lou Quigley during the months after Pearson resigned. His appreciation of her knowledge and work ethic led him to promote her.
Neece then kept things going during the extended illness of Alan Hein, despite attempts by some to do away with the assistant administrator’s position. She has worked with four administrators in just three years, and all of them speak highly of her abilities. The city secured a grant to pay half her salary for two years while she takes city administrator courses on her own time and performs her fulltime duties. Now, she will steer the ship until a new interim is hired.