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Silt waiting for dust to settle after latest administrative departure

Dennis Webb

The town of Silt has begun advertising for a new town administrator after the abrupt resignation of Craig Ohlson.

The town board also hired Lynette Hailey, from Black Hawk, Colo., Tuesday as an interim administrator.

Ohlson resigned July 31, effective immediately.

His departure was the latest in a series of events, some of them bizarre, involving town officials. In one of them, Ohlson’s wife, Susan Jane Ohlson, was cited for allegedly vandalizing community development director Janet Steinbach’s car.

Ohlson’s resignation came two days after his wife was charged, and followed a special town board meeting to discuss concerns regarding Ohlson. But Mayor John Evans said it was Ohlson’s job performance, and not his wife’s alleged actions, that concerned the town.

“We’d had concerns with Craig for some time,” said Evans.

Some of them revolved around the same issues raised by Silt residents. They included problems with the city water system and criticisms involving the town building inspector, Dick Barrows, who quit prior to Ohlson’s departure to take a job on the Front Range.

“The buck stops at his desk,” Evans said of Ohlson. “Sometimes the line of communication between the staff and the board wasn’t as good as it could have been. There were times when we would learn of issues that maybe we should have learned of sooner.”

Evans said Ohlson’s resignation was voluntary, coming after the board raised concerns with him.

“We didn’t force him into it, but we were going into the direction of getting some vast improvements or taking some drastic action, one or the other.”

Evans said the town’s concerns with Ohlson arose only in the last 90 days or so.

That corresponds partly with this summer’s drought, which has hit Silt particularly hard because its raw water irrigation system “has been misperforming to a certain degree,” said Evans.

“That has taxed our potable water treatment plant to the point that we have concerns whether we can have enough capacity in the future if we take on more rooftops.”

Meanwhile, some residents were complaining that Barrows was inflexible and strict in his interpretation of the building code.

But Evans said no one issue led the board to threaten action against Ohlson.

“There’s just a lot of things and they kind of comingle. I’m not going to point to one thing at all. I just think general job performance over a period of time has been a concern. As of late, some things have taken place that we decided to act upon.”

Some Silt residents were already taking action regarding problems they had with the town. Shannon Bailey organized a group of residents and circulated a survey seeking other residents’ thoughts about how the town was doing. The survey asked pointed questions regarding staff and Evans.

Citizens also raised those same issues at a town board meeting July 22. During the meeting, the hood and door of Silt community development director Janet Steinbach were “keyed,” leaving deep scratch marks.

Steinbach also had been a target of public criticism, but Bailey denied that anyone in her group was behind the vandalism.

Police eventually interviewed Susan Ohlson, and say she confessed to being responsible for the vandalism.

At the same July 22 meeting, police also found a nail under the tire of one of their vehicles, apparently placed in an attempt to puncture the tire. No one has been arrested in connection with that action.

Bailey said she and other citizens are pleased by the departures at Town Hall.

“We think it’s about time that there are some changes. I think Craig made a wise decision. Now we’re just waiting to see what the future brings.”

“We’re just looking forward to someone who will take care of the town,” she said.

She said many survey respondents called for a change in administration, saying there was poor follow-through by Ohlson.

“Nothing was ever done. There was talk, but no action. That’s what we’re hoping, is to get someone of action.”

“It’s a good place to start, I guess,” she said of Ohlson’s departure. “We’ll see what happens.”

The town has lost at least three staff members in recent months. Patty Lambert also resigned as town clerk earlier this year.

But Evans isn’t worried about the impact of so much turnover in such short order.

“There currently is no concern about keeping things running orderly on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

The town has hired a new clerk, and is contracting out building inspector work for the time being.

“Turnover can be good if you get better people and then are able to keep them. I think we’ve done as good or better with the replacements that have taken place and our intentions are to keep them,” said Evans.

Hailey makes her living doing interim town administration work, said Evans.

Silt will be accepting applications for the position until it is filled. The town is offering a salary of $64,713 to $87,363 a year.

Bailey said her group plans to attend the next board meeting, and to begin seeking seats on town committees such as planning and zoning, and parks and recreation.

Some group members hope to get on the town board, but that apparently will have to wait. An uncontested slate of candidates was elected this spring, and Bailey said her group isn’t currently contemplating any recall attempt.

“We have to wait and see what happens and see if there is going to be a big difference in how the town is run, and we’ll have to go from there.”

Said Evans, “We’re going, in my opinion, in a great direction. We’ve got a good board, we’ve got a better staff all the time.”

Ohlson had served several years as town administrator, after former administrator Jim Yale’s contract wasn’t renewed, and Evans said Ohlson made some big contributions to the town.

“When Craig came to the town we were very antiquated in how we did town business. … There was a lot of problems just due to I guess lack of attention, I’d say.”

Among other things, Ohlson upgraded old, slow computer systems, Evans said.

“Craig did a great job for a long time,” said Evans.

Asked what went wrong, he said, “Boy, it’s hard to know, it’s hard to know.”

Ohlson did not return a call seeking comment.


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