Council kerfuffle sparks calls for Bershenyi to quit
A split in the Glenwood Springs City Council since two new members were elected in April became an open wound Friday, with three councilors saying Stephen Bershenyi should resign if he truly believes his allegations of secret meetings and unethical behavior.
Bershenyi, who told the Post Independent he has no intention of leaving council, walked out of a council meeting Thursday after reading a statement alleging that Mayor Michael Gamba and Councilors Todd Leahy, Steve Davis and Kathryn Trauger had violated state law and decided in a private meeting to hire Andrew Gorgey as interim city manager.
“I will not condone government by fiat making decisions in secret, in advance, and presenting it to the citizens as a decision made in the course of a regularly scheduled meeting in order to hide their disregard for legality, transparence and trust,” Bershenyi said, then leaving “to protest what I believe is an illegal action.”
Gorgey starts a six-month contract on Monday after the council formally parted ways with 11-year City Manager Jeff Hecksel. The council decided earlier this year, with Gamba, Leahy, Davis and Trauger in favor, to end Hecksel’s tenure by August. As Hecksel looks for a new job, the four pushed for an interim manager while the city launches a national search for a permanent successor.
Bershenyi, Leo McKinney and Matt Steckler supported Hecksel throughout the process.
Members of the council majority on Friday denied meeting in secret and expressed anger and disappointment at Bershenyi’s broadside.
“If he feels that way, I think he should resign,” Davis said. “This kind of rhetoric in the face of the public is not helpful. We have a lot to get done.”
Gamba said Bershenyi’s conduct was “completely inappropriate.”
“It’s my hope that Stephen chooses to participate in a functional way or he chooses to resign,” Gamba said.
Leahy also said Bershenyi should resign if he truly believes what the four majority members insisted were groundless allegations.
Bershenyi told the PI on Friday that he can’t substantiate his suspicion and rumors he’s heard around town that the four are getting together and making decisions in advance.
“They’re coming to meetings with decisions made,” he said. “They think they don’t need to play by any of the rules and the only thing that governs their behavior is they have four votes.”
Bershenyi, who fills one of the council’s two at-large seats, said, “This town means a helluva lot to me. If I have to be the gadfly who nips at their heels until they do things right, I’ll be that guy.”
McKinney said he, too, had “been told by people in the community who live and work by the Hotel Denver that they’ve seen them [the council majority] getting together” outside of regular council meetings.
Trauger, Davis and Gamba acknowledged a mistake earlier this year. Gamba said he and Trauger had a meeting scheduled at a downtown restaurant with City Engineer Terry Partch to review the revised RFTA Access Control Plan for the Rio Grande corridor. Davis joined them and shouldn’t have stayed at the table, Gamba said.
Under state law, when three council members are meeting, advance public notice is required and the meeting is supposed to be open.
Davis and Trauger acknowledged that the meeting with Partch occurred. Trauger also said that shortly after she and Davis took office, they would join some other council members for drinks after regular meetings, but “decided this isn’t right” and stopped.
Gamba said some conversations were scheduled shortly after the April election, but public notice was provided and Steckler, McKinney and Bershenyi were invited, but didn’t show up.
With Bershenyi and the council majority trading criticism, how does the council move forward?
Bershenyi said it’s simple.
“These guys need to do things according to Hoyle. That would cure it overnight.”
Said McKinney, “They’re not respecting the process, but really we’re not that far apart on anything but Jeff Hecksel.”
Trauger said she thought the last part of that statement was true “for the most part.”
“Steve [Bershenyi], Matt and Leo have had a good relationship with Jeff,” she said. “That relationship has gotten in the way of looking at the bigger picture in terms of moving forward.”
Trauger and Davis were elected in April and joined Leahy in supporting Gamba as mayor. Some councilors said Bershenyi had wanted to be mayor and felt burned by that.
Trauger said the council division really boils down to Hecksel’s supporters being mostly happy with the status quo and others who believe the city “does have things that need to be fixed.”
With construction of the Grand Avenue bridge kicking off next month, the city faces numerous issues related to that project, including efforts to make permanent a new Eighth Street connection from downtown to Midland Avenue that the Colorado Department of Transportation will open up as a temporary detour when the existing bridge is taken down in late 2017.
The bridge project, Davis said, drove the urgency in replacing Hecksel before his contract expired in August.
“I’d hate to run along till May or June and then have Jeff leave” and the city to then have to launch its search for a permanent manager.
Bershenyi believes Gorgey’s hiring was preordained and rushed, and the council should have selected finalists and conducted interviews.
Davis said other applicants didn’t know about Glenwood Springs “didn’t even know we have a bridge over the Colorado River,” whereas Gorgey, who was Garfield County manager until July, is here, has worked with the Colorado Department of Transportation and knows all the players in town.
Gorgey will be paid $10,000 a month for six months; Hecksel will get $10,900 a month in severance for up to nine months or until he finds a new job.
Trauger, Leahy, Davis and Gamba vowed to conduct a full, open hiring process for Hecksel’s permanent successor, and McKinney said he was pleased to hear that Thursday night.
“We have to keep the focus on what’s in the best interest of Glenwood Springs,” Trauger said. “The problem is, it’s gotten personal. We need to focus back on the community.”
Bershenyi’s blast, she said, “frankly gives Glenwood a black eye. It’s maddening that we are accused of being unethical and we have no recourse.
“It’s Steve’s call,” she said of Bershenyi, “whether or not he can get past this and can work with us and be an effective member of council.”
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