Council Splits Over Administrator’s Pay Raise
by Samantha Wright
Jul 18, 2012 | 2188 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print

OURAY - Tense, confusing and obtuse. These would be three words to describe a discussion which took place at a lengthy Ouray City Council meeting on Monday, July 16, regarding a pay raise for City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli.

Council appropriated money in the 2012 budget to allow all city employees to get a merit-based two percent raise, to be determined by performance evaluation. Rondinelli himself conducted performance evaluations for all of the city staff except himself. Mayor Bob Risch, with input from council and senior city staff, conducted Rondinelli’s evaluation last spring and authorized a raise.

“On the basis of my examination and feedback from council and senior staff, I felt a raise was merited,” Risch said in an interview after Monday’s meeting.

Rondinelli's salary is currently $74,590.36 annually. The two percent raise would net him $76,082.24 annually.

Several councillors objected to Risch having approved a raise for Rondinelli without a formal council vote.

“We just found out and were, like, weren’t we supposed to vote on that?” Councilman John Ferguson told The Watch. “We weren’t real pleased.”

Ferguson and fellow councillors requested that the matter of Rondinelli’s pay raise be added to Monday’s agenda as an action item.

Councilmor Gary Hansen was alone in his support of Risch at Monday’s meeting. “As I see it, we are getting more than our money’s worth [from Rondinelli],” Hansen said, making a motion to formally approve the raise.

But his motion faltered when no other councilor was willing to second it. Mayor Risch eventually broke with protocol to second the motion himself.

In the ensuing discussion, Councilor Richard Kersen said Rondinelli did not merit a raise. Addressing the city administrator directly, Kersen alluded to circumstances which had arisen over the past eight months. “Being the chief, you have to bear some of the responsibility for the things that have happened,” he said.

In a followup interview with The Watch, Kersen declined to elaborate on what these circumstances might be. Ferguson, however, allowed that “there have been a series of events that haven’t gone smoothly,” regarding the city’s new water tank project and pool bathhouse improvement project, among other things.

Mayor Risch, meanwhile, said that the “circumstances” to which Kersen alluded had taken place after Rondinelli’s evaluation was completed.

“You are almost right,” Kersen clarified. “A couple of them occurred before, and one took place as reviews were given out. I tried to make clear I was uncomfortable with some of the information, and I was not of the understanding he would be given a raise.”

Councilor Michael Underwood agreed that council had never formally agreed on whether Rondinelli’s raise should go through.

Risch, meanwhile, defended his actions, explaining that judging from the feedback he’d received from council in Rondinelli’s evaluation process, the city administrator had “clearly exceeded expectations in every category.”

“I see no reason why this man doesn’t qualify for a two percent raise,” Risch said.

Councilor John Ferguson, meanwhile, expressed confusion about the process behind the pay raise.

“Was the two percent raise implemented retroactively to [Rondinelli’s contract renewal date] in February?” Ferguson asked. Nobody seemed to know the answer to this question.

Elmont said she wasn’t even sure if Rondinelli had actually been getting the extra money in his paycheck, even if it had been authorized. Rondinelli did not clarify the matter.

Hansen’s motion on the table was defeated by a 3-2 vote, with Hansen and Risch voting for Rondinelli’s pay raise, and Ferguson, Kersen and Underwood voting against it.

Council acknowledged that a faulty evaluation procedure was partially to blame for the uncomfortable circumstances, and spent some time later in the meeting discussing how to implement a more formal policy to adequately review the performance of the city administrator – one which would allow every council member to have significant input in the process.

City Attorney Kathryn Sellars will help council develop a policy for adoption at a future meeting.

“Going forward we will have a different system in place, with new procedures that are much more explicit,” Risch told The Watch.

More Work for Dog Park

Council discussed a request from Ouray Dog Park advocate June Kirchner for approval to level the ground at the newly opened dog park, and to spread gravel over most of the lot. “Someone has volunteered to level it with their equipment, and she (Kirchner) stated she would do fundraising to get funds to get gravel to put on the lot,” Rondinelli said. “She’s claiming she can raise the funds (for the gravel) but we haven’t seen them yet.”

Rondinelli and Community Development Coordinator Ann Morganthaler recommended that the city put the brakes on the project until next year, and that its oversight in the meantime should be turned over to a committee to ease the city staff’s administrative burden.

Some council members appeared sympathetic to Kirchner’s request, however. “If someone dumps the gravel as a donation, is that a problem?” Councilman Richard Kersen asked.

Rondinelli responded that the gravel still has a value that would need to be accounted for in the city’s finances, and that council would need to approve it “if someone dumps gravel.”

Councilor John Ferguson praised Kirchner’s commitment to the dog park, but suggested she could get “turned off” if the city becomes reluctant to work with citizens willing to donate time and money toward the project.

“We’re blessed to have a wealth of people to offer their volunteer work, but it also takes management,” Rondinelli observed. “We’re spending a lot of time working on the dog park.”

Council agreed that the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee would be the best entity to assist in management of the new dog park.

Cheap Swims for Guests

Council discussed a recent request from Mike Buhler, on behalf of the lodging community, to consider reinstating a program in which the city provides half-price Hot Springs Pool passes for lodgers to resell to guests throughout the year. The promotion is currently offered in the winter months and shoulder seasons.

Councilor Gary Hansen pronounced the half-price passes “a ridiculous thing,” suggesting instead dropping the admission rate across the board in the winter.

Lodger Sandy Messier said that the half-price pass program had not only helped lodgers; it had also helped the rest of the business community because if a family spent less money to go to the pool, they would have more money to spend in shops and restaurants. Messier objected to the timing of the city’s decision in April 2009 to eliminate the half-price passes during the summer season, saying it was done at a time when many lodgers were out of town and unable to voice their protest.

The city eliminated the half-price pass program in the summer partly because it was being abused (some lodgers were selling the passes at a profit to their guests), and partly because the city needed to shore up pool revenues. A year later, the city also upped the admission rate at the Hot Springs Pool. As a result, pool revenues have hit a record high, and the city has poured a big chunk of this new revenue stream into much-needed recent bathhouse improvements.

“LOT [Lodging and Occupancy Tax] and Sales Tax numbers have also been at record highs, with no half price passes,” Ferguson observed. “We’re doing something right, obviously.”

Kersen emphasized that the city is not currently in a position to reduce pool revenues, as it has made a commitment to improve the facility.

City Resource Manager Rick Noll estimated that the dollar value of reinstating the half-price pool admission promotion from June through September would be $18,260.

Risch recommended revisiting the matter after the Ouray Chamber Resort Association collects more data from lodgers on the matter.

Fire Ban Lifted

Summer monsoons have come to the region, dropping much-needed moisture on the parched landscape. As such, council approved a resolution to end the current fire ban it had implemented at the last council meeting. The City of Ouray is now back to its usual summer open burning restriction as outlined in its code, allowing for campfires, charcoal barbecues and permissible fireworks, but still banning controlled burns except by permit.

Disgruntled About Clogged Drains

Sandy and Ted Messier, who own the Cascade Falls Lodge on lower Sixth Avenue, appeared at Monday’s meeting during the Call to the Public to complain about the city crew’s allegedly inadequate response to clogged street drains and culverts near their business stemming from the recent monsoonal rains. The Messiers expressed frustration that in their opinion, the city crew is focusing only on certain parts of town such as Seventh Avenue, and ignoring others.

Councilor Ferguson, later in the meeting, commending Public Works for its response to recent downpours, however. “They’re doing a good job of getting out there and doing what they can,” he observed. “There are probably some places they’re not getting to, but I know they are short-staffed.”

A Kickin’ Kiosk

Ferguson, council liaison to the Beautification Committee, reported that work is is progressing on a new visitor information kiosk near the Hot Springs Pool. The kiosk will be ready a couple weeks. “It will be up and a nice addition to the park area,” Ferguson said. The Beautification Committee receives a portion of the city’s Lodging and Occupancy Tax to spend on such projects.

An Outsized Parking Problem

Michael Underwood, council liaison to the Community Development Committee, reported that the CDC is working on a plan to address a perceived parking problem for large vehicles in town. The group is exploring the Cascade catchment basin at the bottom of the Cascade Flume as a potential parking area for tour buses and RVs, but needs to determine the actual amount of access and egress on Ninth Avenue, which leads to the area. The catchment basin needs to be surveyed to determine whether big vehicles will have enough room to be able to turn into and around in the area. Issues regarding parking delineation lines and signage have yet to be resolved.

One council member pointed out that the Cascade catchment basin is a designated flood area, and suggested there ought to be signage warning visitors of this fact.

Underwood further reported that the CDC has taken the initiative to develop suggested verbiage for a new sound ordinance for the City of Ouray. The proposed new ordinance would be based on those from several other nearby mountain resort communities including Aspen, Crested Butte and Durango, and will include different rules for residential and industrial areas of town. Enforcement would depend upon being able to measure the loudness of certain sounds. Underwood asked council to commit to buying two decibel meters for this purpose. The meters, not to exceed $300, would be used to determine current noise levels around town, to provide threshold data for the ordinance.

Councilor Richard Kersen said he wants to see more research done on the cost and quality of the meters before allocating money for this purpose.

Grant Funding Slow to Come In

The city’s most recent budget report for water tank and transmission line project shows disparity of $77,000 between city expenditures and grant funding for the project. Councilman Gary Hansen asked why. City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli explained that the project has three different funding entities besides the City of Ouray: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health, Safety and Environment, and the Department of Local Affairs, and that each of these agencies has its own reporting requirements and reimbursement schedule. In some cases, the city has to expend its own money and then provide copies of invoices to the funding entity to receive a reimbursement, Rondinelli said. “It takes a lot of time.”

New Firefighters

The Ouray Volunteer Fire Department has two new members: Paul Choate and Nick Sustana.

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