ALAMOSA — Although not unanimous, the Alamosa city council on Wednesday decided to combine its prosecutorial and city attorney positions into one.
In a 6-1 vote with Councilman Michael Carson opposed, the council voted to combine the two part-time positions into one full-time attorney position, effective January 1 of 2019, which is when city attorney Erich Schwiesow said he could be ready to take on the full-time position.
Schwiesow has been serving part time as city attorney and Gene Farish part time as city prosecutor. Farish, who has served as city prosecutor for more than 30 years, was not interested in applying for a full-time combined position since he has commitments to other municipalities as well, but Schwiesow was, so City Manager Heather Brooks said advertising the combined position would not be necessary.
Brooks recommended combining the two positions, and councilors on Wednesday said they believed that made sense for efficiency purposes. Carson said he was “not sold on it” and said if the city continues to grow, the two half-time positions could not be handled by one person in the future.
City Clerk Holly Martinez, who also serves as the municipal court administrator, said she was opposed to the combined position but since the council had made up its mind, she believed her input probably did not matter at this point.
“I just don’t think they should be combined,” she said. She said the court schedule is set through December, and she did not intend to change it for Schwiesow.
Brooks told the council she believed there would be increased synergy that could occur if the two attorney positions were combined, and it would be helpful to have the city prosecutor on site at city hall, which is not the case now.
“My recommendation as city manager would be to combine the two roles,” she said.
Councilor Kristina Daniel said the council has had this conversation for as long as she has served on council. “I am very much in support of combining the two positions,” she said. Having the prosecutor/city attorney on site “makes a lot of sense,” she said.
Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley agreed. She said she believed it had been a positive move for Schwiesow to move his office into city hall and increased his accessibility to city council and staff.
“Our city has just grown,” she added. “We are at a point we need that full-time position … having that person here when we need them.”
Hensley said Farish had done a “phenomenal job” for the city, and this was in no way a criticism of his efforts.
Councilman Charles Griego agreed that Farish had “done a great job for us,” and this was nothing against him. He said the council has been talking about this for 15 years, and he agreed the positions should be combined because things were changing and the city needed to look towards the future.
Councilman David Broyles said he viewed this from a businessman’s perspective and organizational management. He added that he also appreciated what Farish had done for the city, and the decision to combine the positions in no way reflected negatively on his efforts.
“He’s been stable, he’s been loyal, and he’s worked for a long time,” he said.
Broyles said it made sense, however, to combine the positions into one.
Carson asked Schwiesow if he believed he could handle the prosecutorial work by himself or if he would need to add staff to help him. Schwiesow said he would plan on handling the combined duties himself. He added he had spoken with the Fort Morgan attorney who handles both roles comfortably and was also aware that the person who had that combined role in Cape Girardeau, Missouri where Brooks had formerly served was also able to manage the combined duties well. Both of those cities are larger than Alamosa.
Brooks said Cape Girardeau has a population of 40,000 that swells to 100,000 during the daytime, which means the city prosecutor has a greater caseload with the population that frequents the city. The city prosecutor there is a two-thirds position. Alamosa’s caseload has risen to about a half-time position.
Schwiesow said with changes in the law, the city prosecutor and attorney are now city staff, so the city provides the support staff for them, which saves the city money and makes things more efficient. When the attorneys were independent contractors with the city, they had to include the cost of their own support staff in their contracts.
Schwiesow said he would be comfortable making the transition by the first of the year. Although he has not had experience as a city prosecutor, he said the Colorado Municipal League has training materials that are very good.
Alamosa Police Chief Duane Oakes said combining the positions would be beneficial for the police department who would have better access to the prosecutor if he was at city hall, “and the officers I think would build rapport with the prosecutor.”
Mayor Ty Coleman said he was initially undecided but after talking with everyone who would be affected by the change, he was convinced it was the right move.
Caption: In an earlier discussion with the Alamosa city council, City Prosecutor Gene Farish, left, shares his thoughts. Center is City Attorney Erich Schwiesow and at right is Alamosa Police Chief Duane Oakes. Courier file photo by Ruth Heide.