On December 4, 2017 the Elbert County Clerk posted an announcement and agenda for a Special Meeting/Executive Session. As an addressee on the Elbert County Sunshine List I received email notification of this Special Meeting. If you are not on the Sunshine Meeting Notification email list, you would have only learned of this meeting if you had stopped by the county administration building in Kiowa and checked the bulletin board(s) within 24 hours of the meeting. Or, perhaps you might have found it on the county website, if you are in the habit as a dutiful citizen of checking the county website every night before you go to bed.
The notification of the meeting met the minimum requirements of the law stating the, who, what, when, where, and why of the executive session. Sort of. It stated:
“The Elbert County Board of County Commissioners will hold an executive session to conference with the attorney(s) for the purpose of receiving legal advice on specific legal questions or issues pursuant to Section 24-6-402(4)(b); and for Determining position relative to matters that may be subject to negotiations; developing strategy for negotiations; and instructing negotiators pursuant to Section 24-6-402(4)(e)(I) of the Colorado Revised Statutes.
The BOCC may convene in a regular meeting after exiting the Executive Session to address the following topics:
1. Possible decision/action regarding staff indemnification
2. Possible retention of bond counsel”
But, who was being considered for indemnification and for what crimes remained a mystery.
I, a curious and concerned citizen, decided to attend the meeting and only learned after the one and a half hour closed-door executive session that the indemnification was for three former Elbert County officers: a commissioner, an attorney, a county manager and “others” regarding a lawsuit filed by the county’s CDS Director, Kyle Fenner.
The commissioners came out of the closed executive session, and then (in open session) voted to approve a resolution to indemnify the three accused former staff members and others. The resolution was not provided to the public, nor was it read into the record. Thus, my opinion, that this was not a completely transparent action. The commissioners provided no clear rationale as to why they took this action. The county attorney, when asked, stated that he agreed with outside counsel that it was appropriate to take this step.
Thinking that the finished resolution was probably not available, I chose to wait for it to be posted on the county website. It finally appeared on the website on or about Dec 18. The document itself shows a recording date of Dec 5. It took the county nearly two weeks to post it on the website. Not timely. Likewise, the official minutes were not recorded until Dec 18 and not posted until Jan 8, 2018. Neither timely, nor transparent. I say not transparent because the official minutes are laughable, other than at least identifying the key subjects of indemnification. The minutes do not include the resolution; do not reference the resolution number, or the justification for providing indemnity. The minutes do not document that County Manager Sam Albright and Attorney Andrew Nathan, representing Nathan, Dumm and Mayer, LLC were also present for the executive session.
Additionally, the official minutes do not accurately reveal the purpose of retaining bond counsel, which was for the Sun Country Meadows road paving project. On top of these omissions, spelling errors and imprecise identification of involved parties shows the lack of care and commitment our commissioners, clerk, and attorney have about accuracy and timeliness, and thus, transparency. The Clerk and the Commissioners are responsible here; their reply to complaints is that citizens can request a copy of the recording.
Beyond the issue of lack of transparency, what we learn from the resolution is that the current commissioners, not even around to observe the misconduct of the county manager, the attorney, the commissioner and others decided in their infinite wisdom that these three and others were innocent. They did no wrong; “…the facts in front of the Board appear to indicate that there was no misconduct”.
Thus, indemnity was afforded, insuring that your tax dollars are used to protect the accused. And, from what I witnessed, in my opinion, the guilty. We will never know what occurred in the executive session. Most likely, the county’s insurance carrier, fed up with the amount of litigation they take on from Elbert County, urged the county to settle to cut everyone’s losses.
It is telling that the county manager hastily resigned earlier in the year due to allegations of sexual misconduct with employees under his supervision. It is telling that the county attorney also resigned earlier in the year amid rumors that he was forced to resign by the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel or face an investigation. His misconduct was observed and written about by many who attended county meetings over the years. The accused commissioner |(Robert Rowland) left the scene because his term was up.
Within a week of the passage of Resolution 17-41, the CDS Director took a financial settlement and resigned her position.
What remains, once again, is the good old boy system of club member protectionism. The accused are bullies. Bullies still remain that need to go. These commissioners remain part of the problem. Now, they want to bully the Library District and other county boards and committees. If you don’t think like them, you are not going to be allowed to serve. You have to pass their purity test. No dissonance allowed.
The Library District, thankfully, is standing up against the bullies. Thanks too, to Kyle Fenner for taking a stand.
Transparency starts at the top. Meaningless proclamations of transparency while handing out awards to local media outlets does not cut it; something about a free and independent press serving the governed, rather than the government.
Susan Shick, EC Resident