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The final agenda item under old business for last week’s Pagosa Springs town council meeting was titled “Town Manager Employment Agreement Modification” and included the possibility of going into executive session to discuss personnel matters.
According to the documentation accompanying the agenda, town manager David Mitchem planned to ask town council to modify his contract so the housing allowance paragraph would read, “Beginning November 1, 2012 and thereafter, a housing allowance in the amount of $1,200 per month shall be paid to the Employee to further the Employee’s ability to maintain a residence in Archuleta County.”
As it stands now, Mitchem’s contract specifies, “… to maintain a residence in Town.”
Mitchem explained the reasoning behind his request:
“In October of 2008, the Town of Pagosa Springs offered the town manager a compensation package that included a housing allowance of $1,200 per month. In April 2012, at my request, the Town Council included changing the residency requirement from ‘Town’ to ‘Archuleta County’ in its Town Charter modification initiative. When this matter was discussed at the Town Council meeting prior to the vote, no one from the public and no one on the Council suggested that the town manager’s compensation package should be reduced if the modification to the Town Charter was approved. The voters of the Town approved the change in the Town Charter to permit the town manager to live in Archuleta County. When the town manager’s contract was renewed the change in the residency requirement was overlooked.”
This issue came up most recently at the Jan. 7 town council meeting when Mitchem asked for a 2 percent cost of living increase to match what was granted to all of the other town employees.
“I think that the cost of living increase is reasonable,” councilor David Schanzenbaker said at that meeting. “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 anymore, I guess I would add that to my motion.”
Schanzenbaker proceeded to make a motion to approve the cost of living request of 1.934 percent for the town manager, but to also discontinue the town manager’s housing allowance since it is no longer being used at it was intended.
In other words, since Mitchem’s current annual salary is $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.
The rest of the council, however, argued in favor of letting Mitchem keep his housing allowance and just changing his employment agreement so it reflected the current situation.
“I just want to expound on some of the history here,” Mayor Ross Aragon chimed in. “Mr. Mitchem has made every effort to live in town. As a matter of fact, he was going to rent the house across the bridge here.” The mayor gestured towards the neighborhood behind Town Hall.
“At one time I thought the manager has to live in town,” Aragon continued. “He has to. That was my thinking until Jay Harrington proved me wrong. The best town manager we ever had lived out of town, so I don’t see living in town as being an issue.”
“I don’t think anyone here is arguing against paying the allowance,” council member Clint Alley argued. “A few of us just have a concern that we need to make an amendment to the contract and get it approved at a meeting here, just so we are keeping up with what we say we are doing.”
At last week’s meeting, when Mitchem asked for and was granted an executive session, it appeared town council planned to follow Alley’s suggestion to modify Mitchem’s current contract.
However, the public was ushered out of the council chamber shortly before 2 p.m., the doors didn’t re-open until 4:02 p.m., and when the regular open meeting resumed, the councilors remained silent. The only person to speak was Mitchem.
“The essence of my statement,” Mitchem confirmed in a later interview with SUN staff, “was that I will move back into town.”
Schanzenbaker also confirmed afterwards that town council made no official reply to Mitchem’s statement. There was no mention of Mitchem currently being in breach of his contract, no request that Mitchem pay back the housing allowance he received while not living within town limits, and no time limit set on when Mitchem would come back into compliance with his existing contract.
“We will do it in a timely fashion,” Mitchem assured SUN staff, citing the need to find suitable housing in town and give proper notice to the current landlord of his county residence.