Where in the World is David Mitchem? Part Five
Bill Hudson | 3/28/12
Read Part One

Back in mid-February, Pagosa Springs Town manager David Mitchem and his staff were preparing a somewhat unusual and perhaps unexpected proposal for the Town's volunteer Planning Commission.  Mr. Mitchem and his staff wanted the Planning Commission — and then the Town Council — to make a substantial amendment to the Town’s “5-Year Capital Improvement Plan.”

This particular Plan suggests how the Town government might expend its capital improvement revenues over the next five years — an amount that must, legally, be equal to at least half the sales tax revenues accruing to the Town each year.  Last year, the Capital Improvement Fund took in about $1.6 million in locally-collected sales taxes — plus some revenues from the state’s Highway Users Tax Fund (HUTF) and some other incidental income.

Mr. Mitchem and his staff were suggesting that a new item be added to the tail-end — the "2017" end — of the “5-Year Plan”.  That new item was a vehicle bridge running through Centennial Park and connecting South Fifth Street with 27 acres of vacant land owned by local developers Matt Mees and Bill Dawson.  The possible bridge was being estimated at a possible cost of $7 million — with the Town government possibly paying that entire amount, on behalf of the possible developers.

Apparently, while this Plan amendment was being cobbled together by Town staff, Town manager David Mitchem was also submitting job applications to La Plata County, and to the Town of Estes Park.

His job application to La Plata County was discussed in Part One of this article series.  The La Plata County BoCC will be discussing Mr. Mitchem and the other County Manager candidates at their meeting this morning, Wednesday, March 28, and I was told that an online audio link to that meeting would be available at the La Plata County website before 8:30am this morning... but it appears the BoCC decided not to stream the meeting after all.

In today's Daily Post, I'd like to consider Mr. Mitchem’s application to the Town of Estes Park, as addressed to “Gary Suiter, Senior Vice President, The Mercer Group, Inc.” and dated February 11, 2012.  Someone  — perhaps The Mercer Group or maybe the Town of Estes Park — has thoughtfully posted Mr. Mitchem’s resume to the state of Colorado website. You can click here to view Mr. Mitchem’s application letter.

Most of the resume refers to Mr. Mitchem’s work experiences in Missouri and in Castle Rock, CO prior to his arrival in Pagosa Springs in 2008, and I can’t speak about those details.  But I did find Mr. Mitchem’s description of his Pagosa achievements since 2008 to be rather fascinating — especially since I have written several articles in the Daily Post questioning those very achievements.

Here’s some wording from the Estes Park job application:

“..My public service has resulted in the following major accomplishments:

“Town Management — as town manager of a Southwest Colorado tourist community, I lead a team that: 1) worked with the adjacent water district to craft a merger of wastewater treatment systems resulting in an estimated $3 million savings for our citizens; 2) designed and deployed an expansion to the Town’s two-mile river walk, fishing habitat, kayaking and tubing features; 3) designed a recreational development of the Town’s Reservoir Hill; and 4) deployed an effective marketing plan that has facilitated tourism expansions of 9% in 2009, 9% in 2010 and 6% in 2011.

“Economic Development — After two years of negotiations, a big box retailer recently announced their decision to locate in our community, resulting in over 150 new jobs.  I deployed an economic development package for a new boutique hotel, resulting in 84 new jobs and $4,824,300 annual positive economic impact.  I implemented one of the most innovative portfolios of development incentives in Colorado.  As economic development president/CEO in Castle Rock, Colorado, I increased the number of commercial prospects...”

And so on.
david mitchem pagosa springs colorado
A photo of Mr. Mitchem's vacant office, taken last Wednesday.
Some of us been wondering, in light of Walmart’s proposed arrival in Aspen Village, just how long Mr. Mitchem had spent wooing that “most hated, most loved” of all Big Box stores to our little rural community.  In survey after survey dating back to at least 1999, the people of Archuleta County have consistently placed “small town character” at the top of their “Things We Value Most About Our Community” lists.  I’m not sure the Walmart Corporation really fits too well with the term “small town character,” but apparently, either Mr. Mitchem felt a Walmart was a good fit with Pagosa's character — or else he wasn’t all that concerned with what our community wants to be — because his letter implies he spent two years negotiating with Walmart.

Mr. Mitchem’s implication that his “team” successfully “designed a recreational development of the Town’s Reservoir Hill” is disingenuous, to put it bluntly.  The four members of the Town Tourism Committee (TTC) who wrote the so-called “business plan” for an amusement park on Reservoir Hill have held two open public meetings to present their plan, and those meetings were attended by more than 100 citizens.  I attended both of those public forums, and I didn’t hear a single citizen at either meeting — outside the four TTC members who wrote the plan — speak in full support of the plan.  The overwhelming consensus at both forums: a new amphitheater on the Hill would be a welcome addition, but we don’t want amusement rides in the middle of our wilderness park.

Yet the four members of the TTC repeatedly claimed that the community supports those controversial plans — basing those claims, in part, upon “petitions” that included “signatures” from children, non-residents, and at least one dog.

Technically speaking, I suppose almost anyone could, with a little effort, “design a recreational development” that has no funding and no clear community support.  I suppose my four-year-old granddaughter could “design a recreational development” if we asked her to; she's pretty darn talented with a box of crayons.

But to design a development that can win public approval — and that can find funding sources that won’t put the Town citizens millions of dollars further into debt?  That, Mr. Mitchem and his team have so far failed to do.  Yet Mr. Mitchem apparently wants to claim credit for having done something very much in that vein, in his Estes Park job application.

“Deployed an effective marketing plan that has facilitated tourism expansion...” ?

That marketing plan was developed by the board of the (essentially independent) TTC, which began to benefit in 2007 from about $350,000 annually in voter-approved Lodgers Tax revenues.  One would hope that the expenditure of $350,000 per year on a new marketing campaign would bring in at least $350,000 worth of new tourism traffic each year.

The TTC's actual Lodgers Tax revenues in 2007 were about $338,304 (Click here to download the Town's 2010 budget; see page 30).

The 2012 Town budget — four years later — expects Lodgers Tax revenues of $416,000.  (Click here to download the Town's 2012 budget; see page 25.)  That’s an increase of about $78,000, after total marketing expenditures of about $2.0 million between 2007 and 2011.  At least part of the tax revenue increase is directly attributable to the new EcoLuxe Hotel at the Springs Resort — a new hotel valued by the County Assessor at $6.7 million.  Another large chunk is due to improved tax collection processes.  Exactly how much is due to increased tourism has never been clear.

During the first few months of David Mitchem’s tenure here in Pagosa, I formed the opinion that he was something of a straight shooter — a man who said what he meant and meant what he said.  He also seemed to be accommodating and gracious, with politicians and media reporters alike.

Let us wish Mr. Mitchem success with his job applications, and get back to last Thursday's discussion of the $7 million “bridge to nowhere.”

Read Part Six...

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