First an election sweep, now the Silt board cleans house

John Stroud
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

SILT, Colorado – The newly sworn-in Save Our Silt (SOS) slate of trustees wasted no time taking steps to fulfill a campaign promise to reign in town spending Monday night, severing ties with town administrator Betsy Suerth and town attorney Gene Duran, implementing a hiring freeze and all but eliminating the planning department.

“The people of Silt have spoken, and the people believe the SOS direction was the direction for the town,” Silt Mayor Dave Moore said at the start of Monday’s regular town council meeting, reading from a prepared statement that set the tone for an often contentious meeting.

Moore, who won re-election by just five votes over challenger and former trustee Meredith Robinson, was joined by three like-minded new trustees who were sworn into office: Rick Aluise, Bryan Fleming and Paul Taylor.

While Moore’s win in the April 6 election was close, even prompting a recount that confirmed his election victory, the three new trustees won by a sizable margin over a loose counter slate of candidates, including ex-trustee Bobby Hays, Mark Rinehart and Bob Shively.

The new group took it as a mandate that Silt wanted fiscal and managerial change, and wanted it sooner rather than later.

“The biggest fear people have, and that basically America has, is the out-of-control, inflationary, deficit-driven budgets coming from national politicians intoxicated with the quest for power, prestige and money,” Moore said in his statement.

“Like every other town, Silt has become a victim of this economy,” he said. “These newly elected trustees convinced you, the people, that perhaps we can’t save the world, but we can sure stop the bleeding in Silt.”

After a five-hour-long meeting that included a series of budget-cutting measures offered by each of the new trustees, the board, with no discussion in executive session, voted 5-2 not to renew the contracts of Suerth and Duran.

Aluise, a former town administrator who preceded Suerth, said the move was intended to fit the goals of the new board.

“I would like for us to seek out another town administrator, and go to a contract attorney,” he said. “This is for purposes of trying to save on our budget. We simply can’t afford an on-staff attorney.”

Trustee Nicky Leigh, who was joined by Trustee Sonny Fernandez in dissent, objected to the move.

“You’ve basically gotten rid of the entire town staff at this point, with no consideration of how you’re going to replace these people,” she said. “I think we’re making a terrible mistake.”

In a deal apparently hashed out before Monday’s meeting – which some observers suggested could be the subject of a legal challenge – the board agreed to contract with Carbondale-based planning consultant Davis Farrar for administrative needs for the interim, at a rate of $95 per hour for 30 hours a week.

Glenwood Springs attorney Walt Brown was tabbed to serve as the interim town attorney until a search can be done to find a new contract attorney.

“They accomplished what they wanted, but they didn’t do it in any fashion relating to rules of procedure,” former trustee candidate Rinehart told the Post Independent Tuesday. “I question the handling of personnel matters the way they did during trustee comments.”

One by one during the time set aside on the agenda for trustee comments, each of the new board members offered motions aimed at cutting spending and erasing a $276,000 town budget deficit.

First, Fleming moved to freeze all Board of Trustees contributions to nonprofit organizations and community causes.

“These are tax dollars, and we have no business making those kinds of contributions in the name of you, the taxpayer,” he said.

Next, Aluise moved to contract out for town planning needs, including eliminating the community development director position now held by Gale Carmoney, and to reduce the positions of deputy town clerk and the police clerk to half time.

“These moves are reflective of the lack of work in the planning department, and the budget needs of the town,” Aluise said.

Carmoney will remain with the town until May 10, when a formal resolution is to be introduced cutting the planning department budget and doing away with the director position.

Taylor, a former Silt police chief and officer, moved to implement a hiring freeze on all open positions until the 2010 budget can be evaluated. One exception may be a police officer position that recently became vacant.

Each of the motions passed 5-2, with trustees Lee and Fernandez opposed. Trustee Joe Sos joined the majority in each of the votes.

“I feel like we’re being railroaded here,” Leigh said. “If we get rid of the planning department, how are we going to deal with people who walk in wanting to do a development application? We can’t eliminate an entire department without having some discussion.”

Leigh, when her time came for trustee comment, offered her own motion to cut the stipend for the elected members of the town board in half. The mayor currently receives $200 per meeting, while the trustees receive $100 per meeting.

That motion also passed 5-2, with mayor Moore and trustee Sos opposed.

“We as trustees are making million-dollar decisions with a 50-cent paycheck,” Moore said at the meeting.

Reached on Tuesday, Moore defended the personnel and budget-cutting decisions as the will of the people who voted for the SOS slate.

“Everything we did was spelled out in our campaign brochures, and elaborated on at the candidates debate before the election,” Moore said. “None of this had anything to do with performance, and we were not looking at personalities. It was strictly a budgetary move.”

Rinehart, however, said it was a move backwards and called Monday’s town board proceedings a “kangaroo court.”

“It was just astounding, and the people attending were totally taken aback,” he said. “If the face of Silt had healed over the last couple of years, it’s now bruised and bloody again.”

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