Former Archuleta County administrator Greg Schulte has been hired by the Town of Pagosa Springs to act as interim town manager following last week’s resignation of David Mitchem.
Town council held a special meeting Monday evening that included two items on the agenda, both of which were discussed in executive session. One item concerned the Visitor Center situation (see related article on page 1) and the other was about the town manager position.
Once the doors to the council chamber were reopened and the public was allowed to enter, mayor Don Volger said, “We talked about options for selecting an interim manager. I am going to contact the person that we talked about and we will see where that negotiation goes.”
The mayor kept the identity of the person under consideration a secret, and then set up a meeting for Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. to hear this person’s response.
While the council was in its closed-door meeting, town planner James Dickhoff and former mayoral candidate Mark Weiler admitted to each other they had both thrown their hat in ring for the position, but, as it turned out Wednesday, neither gentlemen got the job.
The meeting yesterday morning was also an executive session, but once it was opened up to the public, Volger asked for a motion from the council to offer the job to Schulte.
Schulte said it was an honor and privilege to serve the community and he appreciated the chance to reinsert himself into a public service position.
Mitchem, Pagosa Springs’ current town manager, announced at the June 3 regular council meeting, “I would like to express my appreciation for the opportunity to serve the Town of Pagosa Springs. At this time I would like to submit my resignation and, with your indulgence, I will give you two weeks notice.”
While the council accepted Mitchem’s resignation, councilor David Schanzenbaker asked Mitchem to mention his housing allowance, to which Mitchem responded, “recognizing that there is a severance package, and also acknowledging that the severance package would not include a housing allowance. That’s all.”
The issue of Mitchem’s housing allowance first came up at the Jan. 7 town council meeting, when Mitchem presented a request for a cost of living increase to his salary and Schanzenbaker responded, “I think that the cost of living increase is reasonable. Since we are giving it to the rest of the staff I don’t see a problem with giving it to the town manager as well. I do still have a problem, though, with the housing allowance we are giving him. That is intended to be for living in town, and since the manager doesn’t live in town any more, I guess I would add that to my motion.”
Schanzenbaker then made a motion to approve Mitchem’s cost of living request of 1.934 percent, but to also discontinue the housing allowance since it was no longer being used as it was intended. In other words, since Mitchem’s salary at the time was $100,000, he would gain $1,934 per year for the cost of living raise, but would also lose $1,200 per month for his housing allowance.
“I would remind council,” Mitchem responded at that time, “the voters changed the town charter, at council’s request, to permit the town manager to live outside the community but within Archuleta County, so my view is that component (the housing allowance) is part of the compensation package afforded the town manager.”
After a lengthy discussion in which all of the other councilors argued for continuing to give Mitchem his housing allowance, Volger, who at that time was still only a town council member, convinced Schanzenbaker to withdraw his original motion and restate it so it only included the pay increase. Schanzenbaker agreed on the assumption the housing allowance issue would be looked into later.
However, Mitchem continued to take $1,200 every month as a housing allowance even though he never moved back within town limits.
In an interview with SUN staff yesterday, Volger was asked to explain why the council decided to not only offer Mitchem a severance package equivalent to four months’ worth of his salary, but to also refrain from asking for a refund of the housing allowance he took while he was not living in the town.
“That is a difficult question to answer,” Volger responded, “because it was all part and parcel of the executive session pertaining to a contract, pertaining to employment, and there is some confidentiality concerns with the employee, and I don’t know how to answer that question. How much information to give you, what’s too much and what’s not enough, and it’s really difficult.”
Volger went on to assert that the discussion that took place during the executive session was a thorough review of the situation, which resulted in Mitchem giving his two-week notice.
“Personally, I think that was an exceptional outcome to a very difficult and controversial community issue,” Volger concluded. “Without going into details, I don’t expect anybody to fully understand, because I can’t give you the information. In this type of situation, I would just hope that the public would trust us that we didn’t do anything inappropriate or illegal or anything that was not in the best interest of the town.”