By Ed Fincher
Greg Schulte was officially appointed to the position of town manager for Pagosa Springs at Tuesday night’s town council meeting, and the way the matter was dealt with was an example of how much things have changed compared to the tenure of the previous town manager.
Schulte has acted as interim town manager since the resignation of David Mitchem on June 3.
When Mayor Don Volger asked Schulte if he would like the council to move into an executive session to discuss his contract in private, which would be his right under state law, Schulte replied, “No, sir. I believe the pertinent points of the contract are outlined for the board there … so I feel no need, for me, to go into executive session.”
In addition, Town Clerk April Hessman confirmed the town’s employee agreement with Schulte was not only in front of the town council members; it had also been posted on the town’s website and was freely accessible to the public.
“I might just note,” Volger added, “that was by Greg’s suggestion, and it was released prior to our discussion tonight.”
Once councilor David Schanzenbaker’s motion to accept the contract was seconded and unanimously approved, the mayor said, “Another thing I wanted to note was how really easy this negotiation process was. Any points that I was coming into it with, possible questions or concerns, Mr. Schulte alleviated all of that early on. It was really pleasant to work with him.”
Under Colorado’s Sunshine Laws, personnel matters are one of the few areas of government business that may be conducted in private. However, Jay Harrington, whom former Mayor Ross Aragon once characterized as “the best town manager we ever had,” always asked that any discussion of his contract or performance evaluation be conducted in an open meeting.
Mitchem often asked for a closed-door session to discuss his contract or his performance.
The most obvious difference between the town’s contract with Mitchem and the one with Schulte is the base salary — only $89,000 for Schulte per year compared to nearly $102,000 for Mitchem.
A salary study conducted for the town in 2012 showed the salary range for a town manager in a community the size of Pagosa Springs should be somewhere in the range of $78,411 to $110,789, with the average being $94,219.
In addition, Schulte will not receive a housing allowance.
According to Mitchem’s employment agreement, besides his annual salary of $100,000 (including the possibility of merit and cost of living raises each year), paid holidays and 23 days’ worth of personal time off, he was also entitled to additional employee benefits. These additional benefits included health insurance, life insurance, retirement benefits, reimbursement for general business expenses and a housing allowance to offset the cost of living in Pagosa Springs.
However, Mitchem didn’t live within the town limits.
At the Jan. 7 town council meeting, when Mitchem presented a request for a cost of living increase to his salary, 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.”
“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.”
When the issue became a sticking point, Mitchem promised to look for a new house within town limits. However, until he finally resigned in June, Mitchem continued to take $1,200 every month as a housing allowance, though he never moved back within town limits.
The final paragraph of Schulte’s employment agreement specifies, “The Employee agrees for the term of this Agreement and any extensions thereto to maintain his principal, primary residence for purposes of voter registration and habitation within the boundaries of Archuleta County, as required by Section 7.1(B) of the Town Charter.”
Schulte made no promise to live within the town and asked for no extra money to help with his housing.