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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Conflict in Berthoud: Economic Development Stalled by Past Grievances

By Shari Phiel
Berthoud Recorder

It appears that despite urgings from several Town board members to look towards the future, a subset of members from the Berthoud Economic Resource Team continue to focus on past grievances. Following last week’s submittal of a letter to the Town Board of Trustees calling for the board to forgo renewal of Town Administrator Jim White’s contract, subcommittee members of the economic group have approached local business owners to sign a petition drafted for that same purpose.

While some business owners have signed the petition, not all those asked have done so. In fact, some question the tactics being used to get business owners to sign. One downtown business owner, who, like other business owners, would not allow the use of their name for fear of economic reprisals, felt they were approached in an overbearing or “aggressive” manner when asked to sign the petition last week. 

“Yeah, I felt bullied,” said the owner. While this individual didn’t agree with the petitioners’ methods, grievances or the purpose of the petition, they did worry about being blacklisted if they spoke out.  In a community as small as Berthoud, especially given the current economic difficulties, “I can’t afford to lose any customers.”

A request submitted last week to members of the BERT committee and the Town Board to obtain a copy of the petition has not received a response. An additional written request has been submitted to Town Clerk Mary Cowdin, who noted that neither the BERT letter nor the petition have been officially submitted to the Town.

While specific details of the petition have not been made available, the heart of debate centers on the loss of economic development consultant Stephanie Salazar, a Lakewood consultant hired last October to assist Town staff and the BERT group.

While all of the BERT members, Board of Trustees and Town staff members who worked with Salazar agree she was an excellent resource, not all business owners agree she is irreplaceable nor do they believe the situation warrants the response it has received.

Ian Tinney, a longtime Berthoud resident and owner of Berthoud Standard Auto and Truck Repair, was not asked to sign the petition and is one of a number of business owners not familiar with Salazar or her work. When asked if he would have signed had he been approached, Tinney replied, “No, I would not.” He went on to add he has not seen anything that would warrant the dismissal of the Town administrator and his interactions with Town staff, in general, have been good.

Although Berthoud Mayor Tom Patterson understands, and in some cases agrees with, the complaints expressed by the group, he also recognizes the Town encompasses more than just the business community. “If you take 5,000 and change citizens, then Jim’s doing just great. If you take the business area, then they’re concerned.”

The Town Board previously voted to renew White’s contract for one year at a March 3 executive session meeting, which is not open to the public, and a finalized contract, signed by all parties, is now in the works. If necessary, an additional executive session could be held to review the decision to renew the contract.

“The majority of everything that goes on, in regard to an individual’s future, needs to be done in an executive session,” added Patterson.

The mayor also hopes the Town Board stays focused “on the long term goals for the betterment of the Town.” He added, “We may disagree on how we get there, but [let’s] continue.”

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