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Walsenburg considering strong mayor government

by Larry Patrick
WALSENBURG- “If the city council and mayor believe that they should be able to individually interfere in the day-to-day operations of the city administrator, the limiting language can be eliminated.” This statement was made in a letter from Walsenburg City Attorney Dan Hyatt to Mayor Bruce Quintana and the Walsenburg City Council who are considering changes to Ordinance 967. City Council is calling a meeting for Monday, Aug. 15 at 5 pm at City Hall to discuss if they want to make changes to that ordinance prior to looking for a new administrator.
The mayor and some council members want to consider going from a weak-mayor form of government to a strong-mayor form of government which would change the amount of authority the mayor has over city council, administrators and employees.
The previous Walsenburg City Council under Mayor Edi Sheldon officially set up Ordinance 967 to allow professional administrators to run day-to-day operations of the city. In short, the city council sets policy and the administrator works to make it happen without interference from them. Under the ordinance, the city council & mayor control only one employee, the administrator. Many small cities operate under this form of government because most mayors and city council members don’t have the time, experience or training to run a multi-million dollar corporation.
Current City Attorney Dan Hyatt was instrumental in guiding the previous city council through the process. Hyatt is a former city administrator and highly recommended the current ordinance to the previous city council. The current system allows the mayor and city council, as a group, to vote out any administrator they feel is not doing the job but does not allow interference from individual elected officials.
Ordinance 967 addresses the power and responsibility the city council delegates to the office of the city administrator. Under Colorado law (Walsenburg is a statutory city), power is vested in the city council as a whole and not in the mayor. It’s officially called Council-Weak Mayor form of government. Mayor Quintana wants to consider changing this.
The current ordinance specifically limits interference in the day-to-day operation of the city by the mayor and city council members. This is to prevent elected officials from trying to undermine employees or the administrator managing the employees. The ordinance makes sure that the administrator is only responsible to the city council and mayor as a whole unit, not to nine separate individuals trying to give orders or direction.
City Attorney Hyatt is saying if changes are going to be made, they need to be done now so a new potential administrator could know what he/she is in for prior to interviewing or taking the job. Hyatt also pointed out that if the city council wishes to take over operation of the city and eliminate the position of city administrator, the entire ordinance can be rescinded and the city council could form committees to give daily instructions to each of the departments.
Depending on what, or if, any changes are made, an administrator or any employee could be answering to many individual bosses as opposed to just one or answering to the mayor instead of a professional city administrator.
The current ordinance allows for consistency in local government from one mayor or city council to another. One mayor may be able to handle the responsibilities of a strong-mayor form of government while another mayor or city council may not be as qualified. The public can give their input or receive more information at the meeting to be held at 5 pm on Monday Aug. 15 at City Hall.