Mayor Ortega Q&A
Last updated 2/12/2020 at 11:57am
Editor's Note: This is part 2 of a question-and-answer style interview with Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega.
Q: Where is the city in terms of its Strategic Plan, the priorities and how much has been completed?
A: Ortega says roads were a major part of that, and now the city is having to revisit it based on the unsuccessful outcome of 2A in the November election. However, he noted John Trylch, the city's community engagement manager, has helped the city continually refocus on priorities and "pushed us in a direction where we really have a working strategic plan, something that's breathing, that's a living document that we can all look at. It doesn't matter who it is in the city, we know what we're working toward. The intent of that is to really look at that on a very regular basis."
The City Council receives periodic updates on how much has been completed in each category, most recently at the Jan. 28 meeting. Trylch went through each of the four priorities and presented progress made – in some cases, ahead of schedule. Ortega said the council discusses why certain goals haven't been met yet, such as streets, and what ideas they can come up with to make progress. There are a lot of talks with city staff, because they are the ones doing the hands-on work, he noted.
"We all work together to figure out what are our next steps and how do we move forward with this plan," he said. "I think the plan itself has really laid a good pathway for us to keep moving in that direction. I think the thing that is really appealing to me is it forces us to look back all the time. We've had strategic plans in the past ... and typically you spend money or you spend the time and come up with a nice, shiny plan; then it gets set aside and that's the last you saw of it. So with this, we really made a concerted effort to keep that on the forefront of everything we do. ..."
Q: How is the city structured in terms of mayor, city council, city manager? Who is in charge?
A: "We have a council-manager form of city. So what that means is the council and myself, we set the policy and legislation, and we kind of move that path forward. Where the manager, Scott [Trainor], he runs the day to day, he's like the CEO of a company. ... So we really rely heavily on him. He knows what he needs to do, and again we go back to the strategic plan and that focuses it for all of us. There's no question 'what's Scott doing?' and 'is he doing something different than us?' because his job is to carry on that strategic plan for us.
"A lot of people think, 'you're the mayor, you run the city, you get paid a lot of money.' And no, this is a volunteer position and really what my position is, is to help with the policies and legislation."
Ortega said when a citizen is mad about something and wants a fix, the council and mayor work with staff to find a solution after hearing both sides of the situation.
"I try to be that bridge between the citizen and whatever the issue is and pull in the right people to fix that."
In Fountain, the mayor is a figurehead position with no more say than any other council member, but some authority in terms of being the head of the council and steering their actions.
"But my vote is one vote just like everyone else," Ortega said.
This differs from nearby cities like Colorado Springs and Pueblo, which have a strong mayor system where a mayor is more like the city manager.
"There have been grumblings here, people wanting Fountain to go that way, but we don't have the population to support that," Ortega said.
"I like this because there's checks and balances, and it's a lot easier to get rid of your mayor or council in this form of government," he said.
Q: How do you appoint or hire positions like police chief or other department heads in the city?
A: "The only two positions that the council has say over are the city manager and the city attorney because technically the city attorney works for the city council. ... So those are the only two people we have full control over. Scott is the one who does all the hiring and firing of department heads. And then he and that department head hire all the people underneath that. When it comes to higher profile positions like police chief, fire chief, utilities director, he'll put a team together and he'll want input. So I've been involved with fire chief, police chief, a few different staff that we've had in those higher positions. ... And he takes that input as he makes those decisions."
Q: How does the city "feel" about the campaign for a new regional recreation center?
A: "We're all in because we all pushed that issue to the point where we have a committee that's working on this, and so that was a council decision at the time and at the time it was a seminal vote: Let's move forward with this."
Ortega said he has seen much support from various factions, including council members, residents, partner agencies such as Widefield Parks and Recreation, and the Fountain Valley Senior Center.
"This is something that all my life people have been asking, 'We want a pool, we want that.' But we've never had the money or the wherewithal to pursue that. As we're going through our strategic plan – again – that was one of the huge priorities that came up. That's a big part of that priority.
He said Fountain has come a long way with recreation programs (not long ago residents had to go to Widefield), but has since put programs together for the benefit of people who live here. But that progress, while appreciated, only highlighted the need for additional facilities, which have never existed here.
"This year coming up is really convincing the public that it's worth it. And I have not heard one person say, 'No, let's not do that.'"
But Ortega worries that, like the street tax, people will say one thing but the vote could go another way.
"Personally, probably my No. 1 priority is to see how we can make this thing successful. And by this November, we've got a successful ballot initiative, then moving on to the next step of brick and mortar, and moving forward."
"This is not a city council thing. It's not a city thing. It's a citizen-driven event. These are citizens who are actually leading the charge because they feel that strongly about it. We want to make sure we're pushing that issue and getting the word out there and understanding, that maybe we didn't do that great of a job with the road thing and understanding what are the hesitations and how can we alleviate those things that might be pulling on you to say 'no' instead. So up until November, that's one of the things we will be pushing for. It's a big ask of this community, but it's something we hear enough of so I think they want it.
Ortega noted the city has a great relationship with Fort Carson, and there have been promising conversations about the base helping with funding since it could benefit soldiers who live in this community. But many of their soldiers and families may not vote here since it's not their permanent home, so there's a segment of support that might not materialize in an election.