Public raises roof over housing help for Glenwood city manager
City manager Jeff Hecksel’s difficulty finding a home to buy around town is generating little sympathy from some Glenwood Springs residents.City Council members are hearing from people upset that council is considering providing Hecksel some kind of financial assistance.They would have gotten more of an earful at their meeting Thursday night, but Mayor Bruce Christensen stopped a couple of speakers short, saying opportunity for public comment would come later.Christensen said he also wasn’t comfortable discussing the matter with Hecksel not there. Hecksel had taken the week off from work.Christensen and fellow council member Joe O’Donnell took issue when city resident Stan Stevens began objecting to a supposed proposal to provide Hecksel $100,000 in assistance.”I don’t know where this $100,000 rumor started but this is not true,” O’Donnell said.Linda McKinley, who works in the mortgage industry in Glenwood Springs, said Friday that a council member told her council was considering offering to have the city invest that amount in a house to be purchased by Hecksel. The city would then share ownership in the property, she said. She declined to identify the council member.McKinley had hoped to elaborate on her concerns about helping Hecksel with housing at Thursday’s council meeting. She criticized Christensen’s decision to cut off public comments.”I think the big story that got me is that citizens will not be heard if you’re in conflict with City Council, or let’s say the mayor,” she said.Council discussed the housing issue in a closed-door meeting later Thursday. Such meetings are allowed to discuss matters such as personnel and contractual issues. However, any action on such issues must be taken in public.Christensen said Friday that he expects council to be ready to make Hecksel a contract offer at its next meeting, to be held July 20, and public comment will be taken at that time.Hecksel didn’t ask council for possible housing assistance; the idea came from council. Christensen said council is only acting responsibly in looking into it as part of its contract discussions with Hecksel. He said some other local employers provide such assistance to their chief executives.”We have an obligation to assure that we have quality management for the city,” Christensen said.Hecksel began his job with the city about a year and a half ago and earns $108,535 a year. He has been renting here while trying to buy a home.Hecksel and his wife did purchase a 2.8-acre vacant parcel in the Four-Mile Ranch subdivision about a year ago for $160,000, according to Garfield County records.Hecksel and some council members say Hecksel’s housing difficulties as the top city official are indicative of the high cost of housing in Glenwood and the challenge employees in the public and private sectors face in trying to live in town. But McKinley and others say people making far less than Hecksel are able to buy housing locally.”Housing in Glenwood is very affordable,” said McKinley.She said Hecksel’s salary would qualify him for a mortgage loan of between $435,000 and $510,000.Christensen is uncomfortable with the direction some of the criticism over the issue of Hecksel’s housing has taken.”I don’t think that just because somebody works in a public position their personal lives should become the fodder for conjecture,” he said.Christensen said he would like council to be able to do things to encourage as many city employees as possible to live in or close to town.”Whether or not that’s somewhere we can ever get, I don’t know,” he said.
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