Controversy nothing new for Silt board |

Controversy nothing new for Silt board

Heidi Rice
Rifle Correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
File photoThe next Silt trustee meeting will be May 10 at Town Hall.

SILT, Colorado – Cheryl Chandler of Silt Mesa sees a tumultuous time in Silt’s future, following an April 26 decision by the town’s newly elected boardmembers not to renew the contracts for the town administrator and town attorney. Add to that a proposal for a drastic cut in the town’s planning department and the reduction of the deputy town clerk and police clerk positions from full-time to part-time.

“All I foresee for the town of Silt is recalls and lawsuits,” said the former chairperson of the Silt Area Chamber of Commerce. “That’s all I can see.”

Rumor is that there are already rumblings of a recall movement. But according to Town Clerk Sheila McIntyre, none of the three trustees can be recalled until they have been in office for at least six months.

The new board, which consists of four members of the recently formed SOS, or “Save Our Silt” team, including Mayor Dave Moore and newly elected trustees Rick Aluise, Bryan Fleming and Paul Taylor.

Chandler said she was appalled and “disgusted” at the way the terminations of Town Administrator Betsy Suerth and Town Attorney Gene Duran were handled.

“I left the meeting in disgust,” Chandler said. “To me, that is not how you do business. It’s going to be another solid year of nothing happening in Silt. The Silt Chamber of Commerce does not support any of what has happened. A railroad just went through the town of Silt. It was a terrible display of ego to treat people that shoddy.”

Glenn Ault, a local real estate broker and Silt businessman, said he was also disappointed in the way the new board handled themselves.

“It was very unprofessional,” Ault said. “I think the citizens of Silt deserve a little bit of public input on drastic changes like that, not just because it was their stand. They kind of left the Town Hall in a mess. They kind of railroaded things.”

Ault admitted that perhaps Silt Town Hall was a little overstaffed with the current economy, but he still didn’t agree with the way the terminations were administered.

“They could have done it a little at a time instead of all at once,” Ault said. “Maybe we needed to cut the budget, but this was a poor way to go about it. It was awful the way they did it – just awful.”

It was toward the end of the meeting that the town’s attorney, Gene Duran of Parachute, lost his job, along with town administrator, Betsy Suerth, both of whose contracts were not renewed.

Duran said he was surprised, since he had gone through the entire 2010 budget process with the town board between August and September 2009, without a word of anyone being cut.

“I’ve never been fired from a job before in my life,” Duran said. “And then starting in December and January, this campaign began. But I thought I was probably to going to make it through the end of the [2010].”

According to McIntyre, Duran was being paid a yearly salary of $86,100, which did not include one furlough day per month. Suerth was making $91,287 as a yearly salary, which also did not include one furlough day per month. Severance packages for both included three months salary and benefits, including health insurance and vacation time.

The deputy town clerk’s position and the police clerk’s were also cut to 20 hours a week. The deputy town’s clerk full-time position paid $40,186 and the police clerk full-time salary was $38,745. Both salaries do not include one furlough day a month.

The community development director position was also cut as was the planning technician. Both will remain employed until a resolution is proposed at the next board meeting on May 10 to cut the planning department budget and eliminate the two positions. The community development director salary is $68,610 and the planning technician $29,484. Neither salary accounts for one furlough day per month. Both positions were offered one month’s severance pay and three months of health insurance.

The four members of the SOS team say they are simply living up to the promises they made during their campaign to help reduce “excessive, wasteful operating expenses,” which resulted in a deficit of more than $275,000 in 2010.

“The law states that we balance our budget and we have a deficit of $275,000,” said Mayor Dave Moore. “The town is running in the red and we’ve been trying to justify it by going into our reserves. It’s a backdoor way of saying we’re balancing the budget, but if we continue to operate this way we will have to ask the citizens to increase the mill levy, increase property tax, use tax and fees. The people of Silt would have to pay to keep Town Hall doors open.”

Moore said the elimination of the jobs was not something the board wanted to do, but something that had to be done given the poor economy.

“All this was very painful – it was not an easy decision, but it had to be made,” he said.

Moore said the planning department cuts of the community development director and the planning clerk make sense because the town is not seeing any building at this time, with only two permits taken out this year.

“The town has basically shut down – there is no building and I don’t see anything in the future until the banks start lending again,” he said.

The board eliminated the town attorney’s position because it could no longer afford the luxury of having a full-time, on-staff attorney.

“We were one of the few towns in western Colorado who had a full-time attorney and at the time, we needed one,” Moore said.

As far as the town administrator, Moore said Suerth was not given the option of the part-time administrator position because the board was looking for a better fit.

“I think as new trustees come in, they have new goals and I don’t think she fit in,” he said. “I think they thought they could do better in getting a lot of their ideas passed with a new type of administrator.”

A planning consultant from Carbondale, Davis Farrar, was appointed to act as both part-time planner and town administrator.

The deputy town clerk and the police clerk were cut to part-time with full benefits.

So can the town operate without these positions?

“It has been done before,” Moore said confidently. “We have very proficient clerks and office personnel who are extremely capable of taking care of this. We think it can be done adequately and efficiently in half the time.”

Between the job cuts and the budget trimming, the SOS members said they are determined to live up to their campaign promises, which include balancing the budget, implementing a hiring freeze, building curb, gutter and sidewalk improvements to make it safer for pedestrians and making improvements in the downtown area.

“If we did not do what we said we were going to do, we’d be doing the same things they are doing in Washington,” Moore said.

And as far as speculation that the three new trustees are simply flackeys for Moore, he emphatically denies it.

“To say that we’re out of the same cookie cutter is a bunch of baloney. Do we share similar goals? Yes. That’s why we ran on the SOS platform,” he said.

There was initially some question as to whether or not there could be a legal challenge if the board met prior to the April 26 meeting and whether they should have discussed the personnel cuts in an executive session with other members of the board.

Moore denies that the group met together after being elected, but did meet prior to the election to discuss their platform as a group when getting ready to campaign. He also said the changes in staffing were not personnel issues, but budgetary cuts and did not need to be done in an executive session.

As far as any potential recall, Moore would be the only one that could be eligible for the subject of a recall at this time, but says he is not worried. He was the subject of a recall in 2008, when then mayor pro tem Tod Tibbetts spearheaded the effort, with former town administrator Aluise who sought to fill Moore’s position as mayor. Moore prevailed and it was, in fact, Tibbetts who lost his position as mayor pro tem when the other trustees did not vote him in. Tibbetts later resigned from the board.

“I’m not worried about a recall – I’ve been through it once and I would win again,” Moore said confidently. “Those who lost in this election need to get over it. If they want to fight more than govern, they need to go to a playground. They want a recall? Bring it on. Good luck to them.”

The town of Silt also went through a recall effort in 1998, when a citizen’s group called Committee of Concerned Citizens for Ethical Government, in which Moore was heavily involved, successfully removed three town trustees after the board voted not to renew the contracts of the town administrator and police chief.

Moore has since said that it was a mistake. He also says that he and Aluise, now his fellow board member, have no problems, despite having run against each other two years ago.

“Rick is a good man, I’m a good man and Tod Tibbetts is a good man,” Moore said. “We made a mistake. But Silt is a family and sometimes you have problems. But when the smoke clears, we’re still a family. Rick Aluise is one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever met. He was not only a good administrator, but he’ll make a great trustee.

As for the future of Silt now?

“We’ve gone through enough garbage in the past several years. We don’t need it anymore,” Moore said. “Our reputation goes before us and we want to change it to give more confidence to the town and to the people.”

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