A higher standard


At the Jan. 23 meeting of the Pagosa Springs Town Council, the town manager’s contract was on the agenda to change the employee agreement to allow for a $1,200 monthly housing allowance to be paid to the town manager for living within Archuleta County. No formal action was taken to change the contract.

In April of 2012, voters approved a change in the town charter to permit the town manager to live in Archuleta County.

Don’t confuse the issue. It’s not about the town manager being allowed to live outside the town limits.

The contract requires the town manager to reside in the town of Pagosa Springs in order to receive that housing allowance.

Following an executive session on Jan. 23, David Mitchem indicated that he would be moving back to town.

That hasn’t happened, and he continues to take a housing allowance for living in town.

We asked at that time if it was ethical for someone to accept an estimated $18,000 over 15 months for residing in the town limits when he hadn’t lived within the town boundaries during that time. Nearly five months after this issue was brought to light on Jan. 7, an additional $6,000 in housing allowance has been paid to Mitchem for living in town when he still doesn’t live in town.

At the Oct. 9, 2012, town meeting, council voted to allow for changes to one sentence in paragraph six of the town manager’s contract. Upon further review, several additional changes were made to the contract. Those changes were never documented as being approved in the minutes of town council meetings prior to execution of the contract on Nov. 1, 2012.

Following this January’s meeting, Mitchem explained to SUN staff that he overlooked the housing allowance requirement when he updated his own employment contract.

Since then, looking deeper at the differences in the two contracts has brought up other concerns.

Mitchem changed his current contract to allow him to live in Archuleta County. However, the housing allowance states it is for furthering “the Employee’s ability to maintain a residence in the Town.”

In the original employee agreement dated Oct. 16, 2008, “A housing allowance in the amount of a one-time payment of $20,400 shall be paid to the Employee to further the Employee’s ability to purchase a home in the Town.” Was a house in town ever purchased with that money?

Since January, a town employee was terminated for not following the town’s employee handbook. How can you justify this action when your town manager is taking money to which he is not entitled by his contract? It isn’t ethical to take money that you are not entitled to take per the terms of your contract.

This issue isn’t about whether you like the town manager or you don’t like him … or whether you think he is doing a good job or don’t think he is doing a good job. The issue is that he isn’t abiding by his contract. He should have told council he moved out of town and was no longer eligible for his housing allowance 20 months ago.

Why would the town manager and the town council not abide by the town manager’s employment contract?

Why does the town manager continue to be paid for this housing allowance when he hasn’t resided in the town limits for 20 months?

Why hasn’t Mitchem returned this $24,000 to the town?

In January, we asked council to hold their top administrator to a higher standard. They didn’t do that.

Now we ask council to take responsibility and hold themselves to that higher standard.

Terri Lynn Oldham House