Conflict arises in city council seat vacancy

ALAMOSA — One of the new Alamosa city council’s first tasks will be filling the vacancy created by Councilman Ty Coleman’s election to the mayor’s seat.

That will not be an easy task, especially since 13 people have submitted letters of interest for the open seat. That includes all three of the council members who lost their council seats in the November election in addition to the fiancée of one of the newly elected councilors, which creates an added wrinkle to the process.

The newly sworn city council on Wednesday night decided it would hold 15-20 minute interviews with those interested in the vacancy on Tuesday, December 19, pending confirmation with Councilman Charles Griego who was unable to attend this week’s meeting. If that date does not work, the council may hold the interviews on this Tuesday, Dec. 12. The interviews are open to the public.

Submitting letters of interest for the at-large seat vacated by Mayor Coleman are former Mayor Josef Lucero and Councilors Kristina Daniel and Michael Stefano, who lost their council seats in the November election to David Broyles and Michael Carson, respectively, in addition to new Councilman Carson’s fiancée Heather Hixson and Shirley Adcock, Darrel Cooper, Leland Romero, Lori Smith, Rob Oringdulph, Martin Diaz, John Adams, Josh Wehe and Pete Magee.

Alamosa City Clerk Holly Martinez told the council the charter requires the council to fill the vacancy but does not specify how it must do that.

Councilman Jan Vigil, who was re-elected without opposition, said he wanted to get that vacancy filled by the first meeting in January, which will be January 3. The council discussed different available dates and how long the interviews should be and settled on relatively short interviews, 15-20 minutes, with all of them to be scheduled on the evening of December 19 starting at 5:30 p.m., if that time works for Griego.

“This is a good problem to have in the city of Alamosa because it shows we have some truly dedicated people who want to make a positive difference,” Mayor Coleman said. He added he hoped those who were not selected for the council vacancy would still apply for other open commissions and boards in the city.

The council also discussed whether those who are yet to be interviewed should be in the room before their interviews so they would know what questions were going to be asked and perhaps have an unfair advantage. The council will ask the applicants to wait outside until it is their turn to be interviewed, and after their interviews they may remain in the room.

The council will likely make their choice that evening.

City Attorney Erich Schwiesow said as long as Councilman Carson’s fiancée was in the running, he could not participate in the discussions, but if Hickson was eliminated during one of the phases of voting, Carson could then participate again in the discussions.

Carson said, “I do agree on having a conflict. I do not agree I have to be removed from the process.”

He said he would abstain from voting but did not feel the conflict of interest policy prohibited him from participating in the process.

“That is not the opinion of the city attorney,” Schwiesow said. He said it is clear Carson has a conflict of interest and not only should not vote but should not participate in the discussion.

Councilor Liz Thomas Hensley said this is similar to the situation when there was an agenda item related to the housing organization Coleman used to work for, and he left the room during that agenda item. City Manager Heather Brooks said this was also similar to the recent discussion and vote on the Advantage Treatment Centers contract, on which Councilor Daniel abstained from voting and discussing the contract because she is employed by ATC.

Vigil said if Carson participated in the process against Schwiesow’s recommendation, “that puts council in a tough spot.”

Schwiesow said if Carson chooses to participate, “You have heard my opinion … and you can bear in mind any comments he makes.”

Carson said he would abstain from voting but he did not feel he needed to remove himself from the process.

Councilman Broyles said the council needed to make sure there was no appearance of bias or partiality.

Mayor Coleman added, “I want to make sure whatever we do is transparent and above board.”