Manitou Springs’ search for a new administrator to oversee day-to-day operations has dragged on for nearly a year and a half, raising tensions in the small Ute Pass community.

In declining to accept the job of city administrator, City Councilman Bob Todd on Tuesday accused the “office of the mayor” of fomenting “unnecessary discord and confusion within our city and beyond.”

Mayor Ken Jaray, Councilwoman Nancy Fortuin and some Manitou residents have objected to Todd’s appointment, saying it would be a conflict of interest because he took part in discussions about qualifications for the position and interviews with prospective candidates.

Jaray said he also has “grave concern” about how the council voted to move forward with contract negotiations with Todd — a process that might have violated open meeting laws.

The disagreement has caused hard feeling on the council and left residents wondering who’s holding the reins at City Hall.

“The bigger question is, ‘Who’s providing some oversight?’” asked Aimee Cox, a former Manitou Springs council member who has also served as the Colorado Springs City Council’s administrator.

“And is that part of the problem, that we don’t have a full-time city administrator, and there’s nobody there to give them guidance and advice?”

Manitou’s council plans to discuss its options for picking a city administrator at its Tuesday meeting. The council, which has been working with a consulting firm on the search, still has resumes for more than a dozen candidates, Jaray said.

Council members have floated a few alternatives to continuing the search. Suggestions include having city department heads report to the council and waiting to fill the position until after the fall election, in which the mayor and several council seats are up for grabs, according to Manitou Springs’ weekly newspaper, the Pikes Peak Bulletin.

“I just don’t think we have a good ... understanding what’s needed to run the city and who should be doing that,” Jaray said.

The clock is ticking, however: interim City Administrator Leah Ash’s last day is June 27.

The council has been searching for a new administrator since parting ways with its former municipal manager in January 2018. Ash, who’s contract has been extended several times, was appointed as a fill-in after the first interim administrator left after about a year after taking a new job in another city.

Other municipalities in the Pikes Peak region have had trouble finding administrators, Jaray noted.

Town trustees in Monument spent months looking for a replacement after cutting ties with their former town manager in summer 2018. Green Mountain Falls, too, has struggled to fill that position.

“There’s not a huge pool of candidates for this job,” Jaray said.

Manitou’s City Council has made offers to several candidates, several of whom have declined. In one attempt, council members couldn’t agree on a final pick.

“It’s not any one thing — anybody’s fault,” council member Jay Rohrer said. “Nobody on council is blaming anyone else on council for how long it’s taking — it’s just how long it’s taken.”

Todd has disputed the charge that accepting the position would be a conflict of interest.

The councilman, whose term expires in 2022, said he initially applied for the position in late May 2018, saying he would recuse himself from council discussions related to the job if he made a short list of candidates.

Todd said he chose not to participate in a work session in March, when council members met to discuss the recruiting process and qualifications. He applied again for the position in April, but later withdrew in deference to Manitou Springs School District 14 Superintendent Ed Longfield, who also interviewed for the job. But Longfield, too, withdrew from consideration.

The mayor’s concerns about open meeting law violations stemmed from a May 21 meeting, when Rohrer moved to add an item to the agenda to reconsider Todd for the position. Later in the meeting, the council voted 4-2, with Jaray and Fortuin opposed, to direct city staff to negotiate a contract with Todd.

The city requires that meeting agendas be publicly posted at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting. The state’s open meetings law has a similar requirement, as well as a provision that requires local bodies to make public the names of finalists for positions such as city administrator at least 14 days before appointing someone.

The council appears to have violated the 14-day posting requirement, said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, an organization that advocates for government transparency.

“If Todd hadn’t been publicly named as a finalist two weeks’ prior to the May 21 meeting, I don’t see how the council could have voted to extend him an employment contract on that date,” Roberts said in an email.

But Councilman Rohrer said the council remedied potential open meeting law violations when — on the advice of the city attorney — it passed a resolution on May 28 to retroactively list Todd as a finalist and ratify offering Todd a contract.

Questions over whether Todd’s nomination was appropriate, however, persisted.

“In an attempt to respect everyone’s position, the process ended up getting very, very muddy,” Fortuin said. “My sense is that we have been a very functional council, except for the issue of the city administrator. And I don’t know why that is.”

The mayor’s complaints, posted on Facebook, have contributed to what Todd calls a “downward spiral that’s gotten very personal and very vicious.”

“Why are we playing Washington politics, I have no idea. I have no idea what’s motivating the office of the mayor to do that,” Todd said in an interview.

But former Manitou Springs Mayor Marcy Morrison said squabbles on the council are far from unprecedented.

“I have lived in Manitou Springs 50 years, and we have shock waves from time to time, as most communities do. I don’t know that it’s dysfunctional,” said Morrison, who has also served as a state legislator and El Paso County commissioner.

She added that disagreements can become heated when local elected officials, who aren’t career politicians, are debating issues they’re passionate about.

“They may be different in personalities and even in points of view, but you have to look at the big picture,” Morrison said. “This little city has to flourish, and it can only flourish with a community board that is doing their business as responsibly as they can.”

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