The Town of Paonia board trustees are once again broaching Corinne Ferguson’s contract and dual job description as town administrator and clerk.
She began her public service stint in Paonia in 2010 as a town trustee before accepting the town’s deputy clerk position in 2013. In 2019, the board appointed Ferguson town clerk and interim town administrator, and she officially stepped into the role in June 2020 following her long history of service to the town.
For Trustee Paige Smith, the dual responsibilities are “unfair” to Ferguson, whose time and attention is divided between the two positions.
“I was very clear to Corinne in that conversation that I felt like it was unfair to her to be asked to do two full-time jobs. And I brought to her problems that I had seen with public notices,” Smith told fellow board members during the May 26 town council meeting. “Some ordinances are not being used as they should.”
She pointed out that the clerk is the official custodian of all records centrally maintained in the town.
“By having Corinne do both jobs, we have lost the statutorily designed checks and balances of good governance. To have the clerk be one person and the administrator another person, those two people should be able to confer.”
She added that “overloading” the work on a single person has been a disservice to the town, leading “things to fall through the cracks.”
Smith’s comments followed her motion to divide Ferguson’s responsibilities into two separate positions by hiring a second person to share the workload. The motion failed 4-3, with Mayor Mary Bachran breaking the tie with a “nay” vote. Although Smith’s motion failed, she commented that her intention was to kickstart the conversation.
While most board members agreed that Ferguson’s responsibilities were best served through two positions, they posed concerns on how to proceed with the change.
Trustee Dave Knutson noted that splitting the administrative clerk into two jobs would allow the town administrator more oversight.
Trustee Thomas Markle said that through hiring a second person, the two individuals could fill in for each other. For Trustee John Valentine, however, the discussion is more appropriate for a larger municipality with more resources than Paonia.
He noted that while he was compelled by his fellow board members’ arguments for hiring a second person, the town “clearly doesn’t have unlimited resources.”
Bachran echoed Valentine’s sentiments. She agreed separating the positions would be beneficial, but the town doesn’t have the money to hire supporting staff.
She pointed out that the median salary range for a town clerk in an area the size of Paonia runs between $58,000 and $82,000 a year. With benefits, the town could potentially have to consider funding over $100,000 a year toward a second salary.
“There is no way we have hired out $50,000 worth of work to somebody else to support Corinne. I don’t believe that’s true,” Bachran told the board.
The mayor suggested that if trustees move forward with splitting the positions, they should wait until a second hire can be planned for in the 2023 budget.
“Then we can decide if Corinne is going to serve as town administrator or as clerk as budgeted,” she told the trustees. “Then we move forward with hiring after we have a 2023 budget when the money is there. The money is not there this year.”
Smith maintained that the decision should be made sooner rather than later so Ferguson could focus on the town’s water and sewer problems, issues she said only the administrative clerk could supervise.
“We can find the money,” said Smith in response to Bachran’s budgetary concerns. “We’re finding the money to pay for a physical plant. We can find the money to do that but we’re not going to need the money right away.”
The trustee suggested discussing a budget amendment that would allocate funds for a new clerk and allow Ferguson to focus on administrative duties.
Ferguson’s contract, renewed in January 2021, expires on Dec. 31 this year. Trustees have until the end of the year to determine how to proceed with her position.
As for Ferguson, the administrative clerk concurred with Smith’s proposal to divide her role, but first requested further discussion of the two positions with board members before they made a decision.
Ferguson posited that the board should deliberate on whether she should step down from the clerk position and remain as administrator or vice versa. Ultimately, she added, the board may decide she’s no longer fit for a town position.
Trustees will split into an executive session during the next board meeting to further discuss the administrative clerk position with Town Attorney Jeff Conklin. No action will be taken during this time.
Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Delta County Independent and Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter, @CassieKnust