by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — A quid pro quo method of doing business on Mayor Jim Eccher’s part was brought up and questioned at Tuesday night’s Walsenburg City Council meeting prompting a lesson in law and ethics by city attorney Dan Hyatt.
During the council report segment of the lengthly meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Craig Lessar, reported to fellow council members a situation he discovered on Monday, Nov. 6, he felt was disturbing, at best. Lessar told the board that while driving around the city, he observed a commercial vehicle enter into the so-called ‘tree dump’ area of the city ranch. He said he followed the vehicle and observed the crew dump material there. He said he considered the situation one of ‘illegal dumping’.
Lessar reported he found not only tree cuttings at the site, but also found discarded chain link fencing, barbed wire and other materal at the location. He said he followed the truck, identified as belonging to R.A.I. of La Veta; a business that does tree cutting and construction, into the site as the truck driver apparently had the combination to lock on the gate. Mayor Eccher said he had allowed the firm to dump material on the city land as the company had done ‘favors’ for the city. He said R.A.I. had been a big help to the city, cutting and removing debris after the big wind storm earlier this year and, the company had trimmed trees in city alleyways, when they were working on adjacent private accounts at no charge to the city. Lessar said he followed the truck that had done the dumping on Monday, to what appeared to be a private a site on Indiana where the company’s crew was working.
Walsenburg Public Works Director David Harriman said Huerfano County, the city and the Walsenburg Housing Authority have all used the location as a tree dump site, by permission. He described the location as a former city burn pit. Councilman Greg Daniels said there is no comparison between government use and that of a private business.
City attorney Hyatt then rose to address the mayor and council, saying the city administrator alone is responsible for all use of city property and a decision such as that of the mayor to allow the practice, was not right. He said factors such as Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulations can easily come into play with any kind of landfill operation, and the practice could find the city out of compliance with state regulations. “You have an issue if you’re picking and choosing who can use city property,” Hyatt said, directing his comments toward Eccher. Councilman Charlie Montoya said he was concerned the commercial firm was being discussed in an open session without a representative being at the meeting. Hyatt said there was nothing the commercial business had done wrong as he understood the issue. Hyatt said the business was likely under the impression the mayor’s permission was legal. He explained the action as ‘parent authority’ a doctorian under the law, where one party believes the permission granted by the other party is legal. Eccher said, “yes, in the past, I have given him permission ( to dump there).”
On questioning by the World Journal, the mayor admitted the practice, in effect, eliminated the cost of the private firm having to pay for dumping debris. On Hyatt’s advice, the full council agreed the practice should cease and the issue will go to city administrator James Toth for policy review.