Green Mountain Falls still looking for that perfect fit for town manager

Author: Rachel Riley, The Gazette - January 16, 2018 - Updated: January 16, 2018

Neighborhoods. Green Mountain Falls taken Aug. 10, 2015. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Green Mountain Falls isn’t giving up on getting a town manager, though its first permanent administrator only lasted eight months.

The tiny mountain town’s Board of Trustees is searching for a replacement after firing Verla Bruner because they weren’t satisfied with her performance.

Green Mountain Falls long has operated without a town manager, with its volunteer board supervising a small staff and doing its best to field questions and requests from the population of about 700.

But hiring a town manager is often a good option for small, rural communities run by part-time boards or councils that might not have expertise to oversee day-to-day government operations.

“Overall, (Bruner) just wasn’t the best fit for the position,” said Mayor Jane Newberry. “The experiment is not over. … We still want to have a town manager.”

The town’s past few years haven’t been easy. It was without a law enforcement head for nearly a year after its entire police force – the marshal and three volunteer reserve officers – resigned in April 2016, the day before Newberry and two new trustees were sworn into office.

Problems during the previous mayor’s term culminated in a former town clerk being suspended over allegations she misused the town’s debit card.

Trustees decided to hire a town manager after John Pick came aboard for six months beginning in October 2016. Pick, who’s managed towns in several states, was asked to lay the groundwork for a future administration, update some obsolete ordinances and streamline the budget.

As part of that “pilot project,” the state Department of Local Affairs provided a grant of $125,000 over three years to help pay the manager’s salary, with the town footing more of the bill each year.

While Green Mountain Falls pursues the town manager model, a nearby mountain community has discussed a move away from that.

In Woodland Park, former City Councilman Bob Carlsen recently led a push to convert to a “strong mayor” form of government, eliminating its longstanding city manager position. Last month, Carlsen circulated petitions for a ballot measure April 3 to axe the position. But he recently withdrew the petitions amid legal questions on the measure, including when the change would take effect, he told The Gazette this month.

Woodland Park’s city manager of 20 years, David Buttery, in December announced plans to retire this spring. He’s been at the helm for several major projects, including the Woodland Aquatic Center, and has clashed at times with business leaders.

Carlsen has said he supports the “strong mayor” system, which would delegate many of the city manager’s responsibilities to the mayor, because it ensures elected officials are held accountable – not because of the choices Buttery has made.

He said he will decide after this year’s municipal election, in which voters will choose a mayor and two council members, whether to collect signatures for a special election on switching to a strong mayor government.

Despite concerns that unelected municipal managers hold too much power, some in Green Mountain Falls see the manager system as more efficient.

“With a town manager, you have a full-time employee in place who not only can give much more expedient answers to the public, but it’s also somebody there full time to supervise our staff,” Newberry said.

She declined to say why Bruner, who started April 17, was terminated in November. Trustees voted 4-1 to fire her, with Chris Quinn dissenting and David Pearlman abstaining.

Bruner declined to comment.

She will appear before the board for a hearing at the Tuesday meeting. Newberry declined to “speculate” if the board would take action.

Deputy Town Clerk Renee Price has been appointed interim manager while trustees search for a replacement.

The board has not set a deadline for its search. Newberry said she hopes to find someone who’s a “people person” and “problem-solver” with budget experience.

As of Thursday, the town had received seven applications, according to Price.

A committee of citizens and trustees will narrow the candidates list, said Trustee Michael Butts. The group is to meet Tuesday before the board meeting to review the applications and discuss the qualities they’re seeking in a town manager, Butts said.

Clay Brown, a Department of Local Affairs regional manager who has helped other Colorado municipalities hire their first town managers, said initial setbacks in the process aren’t uncommon.

The transition in Green Mountain Falls will require trustees to delegate many routine duties they have handled for years to another person, so trust is key, said Brown, who has been guiding the town through the transition.

“There’s going to be some bumps in the road. It’s not an easy thing to do. (The trustees) have to be patient,” he said. “It’s not something that happens overnight.”

Rachel Riley, The Gazette

Rachel Riley, The Gazette