Town considers candidates for open council seat

The Pagosa Springs Town Council appeared awkwardly lopsided at its Tuesday meeting as council members Shari Pierce, Stan Holt and Mark Weiler filled seats to the right of mayor Ross Aragon, with only Darrel Cotton on the mayor’s left, alone due to the absent Jerry Jackson and a council seat that remains open.

Of course, the seating arrangements should not be construed as a figurative, political designation.

The open seat, vacated when Angela Atkinson resigned from the position at the Nov. 5 council meeting, had been posted for over a month (per town charter) with no apparent interest shown by local residents for filling the seat. Indeed, by the Dec. 3 council meeting, the town had yet to receive a single letter of interest.

Although three letters were eventually submitted, one was disqualified when it was determined the applicant does not reside in District 2 — the district represented by Atkinson. The other applications, one from ex-police chief Don Volger, the other from former town building inspector Steve Koneman, will be reviewed by council prior to the Jan. 15 mid-month meeting.

Koneman and Volger will be interviewed by the board at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 15 at Town Hall and the interview session is open to the public.

Had council approved an ordinance allowing council members to attend meetings through electronic means (i.e., via speaker phone or other communication devices), Jackson could have at least provided Cotton some company with his distant, disembodied voice.

Presented for first reading at the Dec. 2 meeting, council passed the ordinance but asked attorney Bob Cole to refine the language of the ordinance and address questions of quorum, valid reasons for calling in, and frequency of use. However, the language in the refined ordinance did little to succor council’s disquiet with the matter and Pierce made a motion to not approve the ordinance.

“A constituent told me it could give the appearance that we’re too lazy to do the jobs we were elected to do,” Pierce said.

Cotton agreed, joking, “It would make it too easy for me to stay at home, on the phone.”

Council defeated the ordinance unanimously.

Potentially absent from future meetings but certainly out of work for an indeterminate amount of time, newly-appointed town manager David Mitchem announced he would be out for surgery and had appointed police chief Jim Saunders as interim town manager.

Mitchem stated he was comfortable with Saunders filling in since, “Jim served as an interim town manager when he was working in Central City.”

Mayor Ross Aragon appeared a little frustrated that Mitchem could provide a definitive amount of time he would be out, but also appeared to accept that Mitchem’s absence could not be helped in light of his impending surgery.

Accepting Mitchem’s absence, council considered the matter of the former interim town manager, specifically, whether or not to pay the bonus promised to Tamra Allen for meeting certain performance requirements after she moved from her position of town planner to fill the vacancy left in the wake of former town manager Mark Garcia’s resignation.

Aragon conceded that Allen had met all the performance requirements and asked council, “Do we pay her the $8,600 promised to her for fulfilling those duties?”

Holt reminded the board, “We promised it to her, we should pay her. She did her job.”

However, when brought to a vote, council member Mark Weiler voiced neither “Aye” nor “Nay,” prompting town clerk April Hessman to ask for a roll call.

“I vote ‘present’,” Weiler said.

“The charter doesn’t allow for a ‘present’ vote,” Pierce reminded Weiler.

“If it’s good enough for the junior senator from Illinois, it’s good enough for me,” Weiler responded, to the amusement of several audience members.

In fact, Section 3.6 of the town charter states:

“The vote by “Aye” and “Nay” shall be taken upon the adoption of all ordinances and resolutions and entered upon the minutes of the Council proceedings,” and “any abstention from a matter will be considered an “Aye” vote.”

Whether “present” or “abstain,” Weiler’s vote violated council procedures as enumerated in the town charter, since Section 3.6 also states, “No member of the Council shall vote on any matter constituting a conflict under section 12.15 or 12.16. A Council Member may abstain from a vote only in the case of a declared conflict.” Unfortunately, for the record, Weiler never declared what conflict potentially existed.

Seemingly attempting to smooth the waters, Pierce apologized to Weiler for pointing out his procedural error, saying, “I’m sorry, Mark, I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No, you shouldn’t have,” said Weiler.

Council returns to chambers in Town Hall at noon Thursday, Jan. 15.

jim@pagosasun.com