Florence’s acting city manager, Tom Piltingsrud, met with members of the press on Wednesday to discuss the recent resignations of the six city council members.
Although many questions were discussed, Piltingsrud answered the main question on everyone’s mind: what will be done to sit a new city council?
The next city council meeting was originally scheduled for April 4, but, with no council at all, Piltingsrud and Mayor Paul Villigrana plan to announce a special election to replace vacant seats that day. When asked what he meant by special election, Piltingsrud’s response was limited but encouraging.
“We’re still working with the county to see how we’re going to (create) this special election, but it will happen,” he said. “I hope we have concerned citizens who will come forward and want to exercise their civic duty.”
Details of the special election will be forthcoming, according to Piltingsrud, and the timing of the special election has yet to be determined. Piltingsrud expects to receive responses from new city attorney Kaitlin Turner, appointed March 11, in the near future regarding the timeframe required.
“It’s kind of a unique situation where you have six council members resigning — not a lot of case law or anything to help guide how a city would come out of this,” he said.
The question of whether current mayor Villagrana will also step down has been raised, and Piltingsrud said it would surely cause a huge problem if that happened.
“We won’t pay bills, so we won’t pay employees,” he said. “He assured me he wouldn’t.”
Before the city council adjourned its Monday meeting, a tentative decision was made to contact city manager candidate Kim Zimmerman of Pennsylvania to begin work on a potential contract. With the resignation of city council members, however, the decision is on hold, Piltingsrud said.
“I’m going to send her a letter and let her know (what’s going on) out of courtesy,” he said. “What the new council does, I can’t anticipate about a new city manager.”
Governor Polis’ office had been in contact with Piltingsrud and Turner. A Polis representative, Kara Powell, had this to offer: “The governor has requested an update from his legal counsel on accountability and how to ensure basic services remain in place for Florence residents.
Piltingsrud, however, said he is unlikely to take advantage of the governor’s potential offer just yet.
“The city works – we have a lot of projects coming up,” he said. “Lots of hard work going on.”
A point of contention, particularly in former councilman Brian Allen’s resignation letter, was the need for a forensic audit of the city’s budget over the past few years.
It was Allen himself who wanted Piltingsrud’s expertise to act as Acting City Manager of Florence and, after Piltingsrud’s acceptance, discussion opened up about the need for an audit.
The city was already slated for an audit on March 28, however, several council members expressed a desire to conduct a forensic audit – aimed specifically at finding criminal activity.
Piltingsrud contacted former chief financial officer (and current county executive) Sunny Bryant to review the 2013 audit that was in question. Bryant identified several areas of concern she had and the listener was asked to develop the listener.
“The board has approved the expenditure of the additional funds,” he said. “Finance has already started the audit based on his request – they are already working on our audit so when that audit is finalized and whatever findings are found will be presented to the public and staff and then I guess we will decide whether we need a forensic audit or not.
Piltingsrud knew that several board members disagreed with the idea of having an expanded audit before a forensic audit, but he was disappointed that they didn’t give him trouble.
“If they didn’t like it, they should have said so,” he said.
The council had ordered the chief of police to carry out a financial audit, and Piltingsrud had to remind them that only the city manager had the power to order department heads to do something about it.
He commented on the $2,000 missing from an earlier 2017 audit. Then-new finance officer Lori Cobler raised concerns with former city manager Mike Patterson about salary advances and loans to city employees that shouldn’t have happened.
“We could probably find that if we emptied every box the city had and looked at every check since 2013, we might be able to find something odd where that $2,000 went.”
Patterson was fired in August 2021 after the city council became aware of allegations of unwanted sexual advances towards city staff. He was arrested Nov. 15 and faces two counts of criminal harassment – emotional distress, each a Class 5 felony; sexual contact – no consent, a class 1 misdemeanor; and supplying alcohol to a minor, also a class 1 misdemeanor.
Despite the turmoil of the past 24 hours, Piltingsrud maintains hope that more stable waters are ahead for the city of Florence.
“Council will be able to reprioritize the things they think should be done in this city,” he said. “We are going to do good things. I think there will be a lot of people who will want to come forward.