Avon says no on business owner voting, elected mayor | VailDaily.com

Avon says no on business owner voting, elected mayor

Avon town hall. Vail Daily file photo.

A pair of old policies will receive a new look in Avon as part of a package of charter amendments suggested by Councilmember Jake Wolf on Tuesday.

Wolf’s suggestions were largely a result of his personal experiences on the council over the last seven years; Wolf will term out in November upon finishing his second term.

Wolf’s recent experience in trying to receive pandemic unemployment assistance as an out-of-work musician, but being denied because he is a town of Avon paid employee — making $250 per month for his duties on the council — led him to realize that councilmembers could not reduce or decline their salaries. The Town Council agreed to look further into the issue.

The town also agreed to examine a 2015 policy change that Wolf has long suspected was made by the previous town manager in an effort to subvert staff complaints about the town manager. Wolf called it a transparency issue.

“Things were going on, allegedly, behind our backs, that we never knew,” Wolf said.

The policy, which went into effect in 2015, said complaints that arise among town staff were to be first discussed with “the person you are upset with,” and second “if not resolved, discuss the situation with your supervisor,” third “if a resolution is not reached with your supervisor or if it is inappropriate to go to your supervisor, discuss the situation with your department director. If the situation is not resolved, communicate the problem directly to the town manager. If the concern is with the town manager, follow steps 1-3 and then, if not resolved, communicate the problem with the assistant town manager–finance and administration (HR department director).”

The fact the assistant town manager-finance and administration also reports to the town manager is problematic, say councilmembers.

Following in inquiry into allegations of improper management practices lodged against the former town manager, the town was to look into employing a personnel advisory committee with a human resources representative to oversee the town manager.

“Because of the way the structure worked, that HR director did not actually report to council,” Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes said on Tuesday.

Outside of council meetings, councilmembers are forbidden from engaging directly with town employees regarding work matters. The mayor asked the council on Tuesday if another employee should be allowed to report directly to the council.

“I think it was good to have a check and balance on a town manager,” said councilmember Tamra Underwood. “What if there was a town manager who was embezzling money from the town? The director of finance might discover that. Who does the director of finance report to? That person who is embezzling money from the town. What’s a person to do?”

Town manager Eric Heil agreed.

“If there was one position to pick in the town for a check and balance, that reports directly to the council, it would be the finance director,” Heil said.

Appointing that position would require a change to the town charter.

“I could get behind looking into it, but we have got a lot of other things on our plate right now, and this is a low priority,” said councilmember Scott Prince.

Underwood said she thinks the town should look into it following the pandemic.

Councilmember Amy Philipps agreed.

“Maybe start that in the fall of 2021,” Phillips said.

No elected mayor

Other suggestions from Wolf weren’t as welcome.

Motivated by his experience of being demoted from his mayor pro tem position when he was hoping to become mayor, Wolf suggested that mayor become an elected position in Avon. In 2016, after two years as mayor pro tem, the council voted to make Jennie Fancher mayor for another year, despite the fact Wolf had just received the most votes in Avon’s history.

“I understand hurt feelings for people who maybe had their heart set on being mayor, but that’s not a reason to change, people have to get over it, I’m sorry,” Fancher said.

The town of Minturn, where mayor is an elected position, was referenced. Councilmember Tamra Underwood pointed out that if five people in Minturn run for mayor, the four who are not elected do not get to serve on council during that term.

“So you have all of that lost energy, enthusiasm, competence to serve on council, who did not get elected mayor, go to waste,” Underwood said.

“I don’t think it works well in Minturn,” Underwood added. “I’ve heard that some people in Minturn regret that their system is set up that way, and that it’s a barrier to service.”

‘Skirting the law’

Another suggestion from Wolf which came closer to receiving a consensus from the council, but ultimately did not, was the idea that non-residents who own property in Avon should be allowed to serve on and vote in elections for the Avon Town Council.

Using a rhetorical question to voice his non-support of the idea, Prince asked if he would receive a second vote because he owned a rental property in town along with his Wildridge home.

Underwood also asked a pointed question.

“Hoffman properties board of directors — would they get to appoint somebody to vote one vote, or do they get 15 votes because they own 15 acres?” Underwood asked.

“I can’t even imagine even starting with this one, to be honest,” she added.

Phillips said she knows of business owners in town who are engaging in the illegal practice of using a business address to claim residency in Avon so they can receive a town ballot.

“I’m not going to rat anyone out, but we have more than one business owner who is a registered voter, using their business address, in Avon, in order to be a voter of Avon,” Phillips said. “I think they have valued the decisions in Avon as being important to them, and they know that they’ll still not lose any (voting rights) within the county as a whole.”

Councilmember Chico Thuon said business owners in town have asked him why they don’t have a vote.

“If you know two businesses that claim this as their residential to have the right to vote in our town, and you’re allowing that … why you wouldn’t want to figure out how they could do that legally?” Thuon asked Phillips. “If two people are doing it, then all of them should be able to do it.”

Phillips said she wasn’t condoning the activity.

“Not to say they’re friends, but I just happen to know a lot of names, and look at those (voter registration rolls),” Phillips said. “I wouldn’t want to see them on council, because I do think they’re skirting the law.”

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