Town council votes to replace Chief Nick Lewis

With little fanfare and without comment, the Lovell Town Council unanimously voted to replace longtime Lovell Chief of Police Nick Lewis with an Arizona man during the regular May meeting of the council Tuesday night at Town Hall.

After a four-month process that included phone and then face-to-face interviews, Mayor Angel Montanez appointed Gregory S. Charles of Glendale, Ariz., as the new chief of police effective June 1. Councilman and police commissioner Scott Allred made the motion to accept the appointment, Brian Dickson seconded the motion, and it passed 3-0, with Allred, Dickson and councilman Kevin Jones voting aye. Councilman Bruce Wolsey was unable to attend the meeting, and the mayor may not vote on his own appointment under the law.

Nick Lewis

Though no information was provided during Tuesday’s meeting, town clerk/treasurer Valerie Beal said Wednesday that Charles has followed his wife’s military career and most recently worked as the chief of police in Springville, Ala. He has also worked over the years as the chief in Ault and Pierce, Colo., and for departments in Montgomery and Clanton, Ala., and in Meeker, Colo., according to a press release issued at the time of his hiring in Springville in 2009. The release stated that he is a Montgomery, Ala., native.

Allred’s motion called for Charles to make $24 per hour and start June 1, but there was no other comment from the mayor or council. Lewis has been Lovell’s chief for 14 years, appointed by Mayor Glen Olsen in 2001.

Contacted Wednesday, Lewis said he will abide by the wishes of the town council.

“My thought was that one person shouldn’t be able to get rid of an employee, but now that three of the council members believe I shouldn’t be the chief of police and they’re representing the will of the people, then I should go.”

Town administrator

The other major personnel issue on the May agenda was the appointment of a town administrator, a position that hasn’t been a part of town government in Lovell since the resignation of Scott Campbell more than four years ago.

On Tuesday, Mayor Montanez appointed Jed Nebel of Lovell as the town administrator effective June 1 at a salary of $45,000, but the vote to approve the appointment failed 2-1 with Wolsey not present and Jones voting against Allred’s motion to accept the mayor’s appointment. With the mayor not allowed to vote on his own appointment, three “aye” votes are needed and Jones’ no vote caused the acceptance vote to fail, leaving the appointment unfulfilled.

Jones said he would like to see the budgeting process for the 2015-16 fiscal year advance further to see if the town can afford an administrator and where cuts in budget requests need to be made before he can approve a new position.

“Until we can find the funding, I don’t feel comfortable making the appointment,” he said. “If we can find the money there, I’m totally with the appointment. It has nothing to do with the candidate.”

Allred countered that budget requests – essentially departments’ wish list – are over budget revenue projections by $235,000 for special projects and even without the position there would be $170,000 to $180,000 to trim during the budgeting process.

Jones reiterated that he’s “totally in favor” of the appointment if the money can be budgeted, but work to “find the money” needs to be done.

As the appointment process came to a close at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Montanez addressed Nebel, who was seated in the council room, saying, “Jed, this doesn’t mean you’re done. I will come back and keep making the appointment.”

In other business Tuesday, engineering Andrew Mattie of DOWL Engineering provided an update on the current Main Street and Jersey Avenue projects. He said joint sealing is now under way on Main Street to complete work that couldn’t be completed last fall when the weather turned cold. That work, combined with final work to repair cracked concrete panels, will cause traffic control to “flip-flop” on Main as the work progresses.

The project is scheduled to wrap up by June 10, he said.

Mattie said Wilson Brothers Construction has finished laying all of the storm drain pipe on Jersey Avenue, and work is under way in earnest to replace sidewalk and curb and gutter along the street. He said the project should take another two weeks to complete, followed by clean-up.

Economic development

In her monthly report, Lovell Inc./Grow Big Horn County Director Sue Taylor provided an update on the miniature golf project involving students of Lovell High School teacher Bret George. Taylor said the students toured the Cody mini-golf course and have developed several designs for the project.

Although a location has not been settled on, Taylor said she and Parks Director Gary Emmett are looking at the southwest corner of Constitution Park. She said the students are enthusiastic about the project and have brainstormed ideas ranging from spelling out Lovell Bulldogs with the golf course holes to allowing businesses to sponsor and have a custom made hole constructed.

The course would be 50 by 125 feet in area, she added.

Taylor also said a bicycling tour group will come through Lovell on Aug. 21 and is seeking a location to gather for lunch from around 10:30 a.m. for the first arrivals to 2 p.m. She suggested the community center, Constitution Park or the free camper park and Northeast Park.

The council didn’t express a preference, and Taylor said a representative of the bicycling organization will take a look at the three sites in the near future.

In other project news, the council voted to approve a change order for the free camper park project. According to Councilman Allred, he was approached by project manager John Schneider, who said the design of the restroom/shower building failed to include vents for the restrooms, which are required by code. The cost to add the vents, which was approved by the council, will be $1,678.

By David Peck