Volger takes seat on town council

Vying for an open seat on the Pagosa Springs Town Council, two candidates met with the board Thursday, answering questions about service, performance, and the direction the town has been taking. After the interview, one candidate was sworn in and took a seat on the board for the mid-month meeting that followed.

The open seat, vacated when Angela Atkinson resigned from the position at the Nov. 5 council meeting, was given notice in The SUN for over a month (per town charter), soliciting qualified candidates for the position. By early December, ex-police chief Don Volger and former town building inspector Steve Koneman had submitted letters of interest to the board, and both were interviewed during the brief work session scheduled prior to Thursday’s mid-month council meeting.

Tapped first for an interview, Koneman stressed his service to the community, both as a former building inspector for the town and in coaching soccer for local kids. He also pointed out his work with Colorado Housing, both in his commitment to service and as part of his business experience. In fact, when answering a question about the direction the town has taken (for better or worse), it was the town’s refusal to waive building fees for affordable housing that elicited Koneman’s reply.

“I would have argued that promoting affordable housing is a priority,” Koneman said, “It (waiving fees) would have put the town in a better position to see it done.”

After about 10 minutes, Volger sat before the board, fielding questions for the remainder of the half-hour allocated. Since Volger’s resumé was well-known to the board, the interview proceeded directly to questioning the candidate. Council member Darrel Cotton repeated the question he’d asked Koneman, “If the town is going in the wrong direction, in which way are we going wrong or what way are we going in the right direction?”

Volger responded that he believed the town was headed in the right direction as far as its response to the local and national economic crisis, saying, “The town is doing a lot of good things, especially in these challenging economic times,” and, referring to the town’s recent budget policy, elaborated: “Council responded with caution but not extreme pessimism … I think some of the decisions you’ve made regarding the 2009 budget have been wise.”

Regarding how the town may have stepped in the wrong direction, Volger said, “Priorities for some of the capital improvement projects I don’t agree with. For example, the Lewis Street project. There were a number of issues with the project, it ran over-budget, it started late. I understand the hope was that it would mean money for the town with new businesses, etc., but, was it, in a sense of priorities, a good investment? Time will tell.”

Just past noon, council members wrote their votes down and the pieces of paper were passed on to town clerk April Hessman for tabulating the vote. After counting the votes, Hessman announced that the council had chosen Volger by a unanimous vote.

Wasting no time in swearing in its newest member, the board seated Volger on the council and continued with mid-month business.

With an ex-cop newly seated with the council, it seemed only appropriate that the board’s next order of business was recognizing, in its delegations, local law enforcement, specifically, Archuleta county Det. Sgt. Carl Smith.

Town of Pagosa Springs Police Chief (and interim town manager) Jim Saunders presented Smith with a commendation for his actions last year that, most likely, saved the life of an infant who had quit breathing. After administering rescue-breathing to the child, Smith was able to get the baby breathing again, his quick thinking and decisive action giving a helpless and most vulnerable soul a chance to thrive and grow.

Saunders congratulated Smith and thanked him for his exemplary service, first shaking his hand and then, granting him an award for saving a life, a ribbon bar to wear on his dress uniform, a reminder that, “to serve and protect” is not just a catchphrase but a sacred oath.

After the applause died down, Aragon brought the meeting back to order and Volger was given his first chance to add his voice to council business by voting on first readings of two ordinances. The first ordinance repealed and readopted Chapter 21 of the municipal code in regards to the Land Use and Development Code, while the second ordinance repealed and readopted the official zoning map for Pagosa Springs.

Both the LUDC and its accompanying zoning map have been the focus of revision since early last year. The work was intensive and ongoing, with drafts subjected to public input during the process. In late 2008, several hearings were held at Town Hall as the project neared completion, with local residents invited to comment on the map and codes. Final revisions and amendments were submitted just days before the first reading of the two ordinances.

Both ordinances passed unanimously. Second readings for the ordinances — final approval — will be on the agenda of the next council meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 3 at 5 p.m., in chambers at Town Hall.