Weld County in­fight­ing among com­mis­sion­ers

Ac­cu­sa­tions of ethics abuse, il­le­gal meet­ings, mis­trust are fly­ing

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Sharon Dunn

gree­ley» An­i­mos­ity that has been silently rag­ing be­tween the Weld County com­mis­sion­ers in the past cou­ple of years bub­bled to a pub­lic fury this week.

Weld County Com­mis­sioner Sean Con­way is threat­en­ing to sue his fel­low county com­mis­sion­ers, al­leg­ing re­tal­i­a­tion against him for his re­cent ac­tions ques­tion­ing fel­low com­mis­sion­ers’ ethics and what he calls a com­mon prac­tice of hold­ing il­le­gal meet­ings.

The com­mis­sion­ers plan to strip him of any lead­er­ship roles in the county af­ter the 2017 year starts with the com­mis­sion­ers’ oaths of of­fice Jan. 4.

“Es­sen­tially, the res­i­dents and tax­pay­ers and cit­i­zens of Weld are be­ing told that one com­mis­sioner will not have any of­fi­cial du­ties for 2017 or years to come,” Con­way said. “This has a chill­ing ef­fect on our em­ploy­ees and our de­part­ment heads. If the board of county com­mis­sion­ers can re­tal­i­ate against a county com­mis­sioner, what mes­sage does that send for our de­part­ment heads? The mes­sage is very clear, if you dare cross the county com­mis­sion­ers, bring to light any­thing you have con­cerns about, you will be dealt with in very harsh and re­tal­ia­tory way.”

In a col­lec­tive state­ment is­sued Fri­day, com­mis­sion­ers Julie Cozad, Mike Free­man, Bar­bara Kirk­meyer and Steve Moreno said Con­way has lost their col­lec­tive trust be­cause of his be­hav­ior in re­leas­ing priv­i­leged e-mails be­tween the com­mis­sion­ers and their attorney and his con­tin­ued ac­cu­sa­tions of wrong­do­ing amid his ques­tion­able ac­tions.

“On Jan. 4, as per the Home Rule Char­ter, the board will be re­or­ga­niz­ing and mak­ing ap­point­ments,” the state­ment read. “As Con­way has pub­licly stated, it is not our in­tent to elect him chair or ap­point him to be a co­or­di­na­tor of any de­part­ment.”

The ac­tion comes in the wake of a county em­ployee fil­ing a com­plaint against Con­way, which he said is at his fel­low com­mis­sion­ers’ urg­ing. Free­man, the chair­man of the Board of Weld County Com­mis­sion­ers, said Fri­day the em­ployee had sched­uled a work ses­sion when Con­way was out of town, one in which Con­way wanted to par­tic­i­pate. Free­man said Con­way called her and screamed at her for sev­eral min­utes in a pro­fan­ity-laced tirade be­fore she hung up on him. Days later, she re­signed.

Days af­ter that, the com­mis­sion­ers in­formed Con­way he could not co­or­di­nate a county de­part­ment, and they wouldn’t elect him chair­man of the board.

“I specif­i­cally told him, part of the rea­son I was sup­port­ing that is be­cause he’s un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion from an em­ployee with ha­rass­ment charges, and I didn’t feel it was fair … to put him in charge of peo­ple un­til we saw the re­sults of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Free­man said.

But the con­cerns with Con­way go back a cou­ple of years, and started with is­sues in­volv­ing his niece, Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes.

“This all cir­cles back to her,” said com­mis­sioner Steve Moreno in an in­ter­view ear­lier this week.

Since her elec­tion in 2014 as the Weld clerk and recorder, the com­mis­sion­ers say, Con­way has been in­cred­i­bly vo­cal about her be­ing left out of an emer­gency train­ing in Breck­en­ridge last sum­mer, and he has taken of­fense to com­mis­sion­ers re­fus­ing to al­low Koppes to let the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the Weld County Repub­li­can Party hold meet­ings in the Weld County Elec­tions De­part­ment of­fices two months be­fore an elec­tion. He also has taken per­sonal is­sue with the fact that a county em­ployee com­plained about his niece’s man­age­rial style and sub­se­quent dis­cus­sions about au­dit­ing her of­fice.

He has since ques­tioned the board mem­bers’ spend­ing, ethics and ac­cused them of hold­ing il­le­gal meet­ings to dis­cuss county busi­ness with­out pub­lic no­tice.

Free­man said he is quite aware of the Colorado Sun­shine Law.

“You can dis­cuss what­ever you want to dis­cuss, the weather, or any­thing, as long as you’re not mak­ing de­ci­sions,” Free­man said. Colorado’s Sun­shine Law does not re­quire county com­mis­sion­ers to no­tice the pub­lic “if two or more meet to dis­cuss dayto-day over­sight of prop­erty or su­per­vi­sion of em­ploy­ees.”

The com­mis­sion­ers also often meet fre­quently for lunch, a prac­tice Con­way said he stopped at­tend­ing awhile back be­cause the com­mis­sion­ers’ dis­cus­sions ven­tured into county busi­ness. The Colorado Sun­shine Law states: “So­cial gath­er­ings and chance meet­ings are ex­empt from open meet­ings reg­u­la­tions if dis­cus­sion of pub­lic busi­ness is not the cen­tral pur­pose.”

The law states that when two or more mem­bers meet “at which pub­lic busi­ness is to be dis­cussed or at which for­mal ac­tion may be taken” they must open the meet­ings to the pub­lic. How much more open can a meet­ing at Qdoba or Pizza Hut, or a ho­tel lobby be? Kirk­meyer asked.

Kirk­meyer said she is tired of ac­cu­sa­tions of wrong­do­ing.

“As far as I know, there is no for­mal way of sanc­tion­ing or cen­sur­ing an­other county com­mis­sioner,” Kirk­meyer said in an in­ter­view this week. “From my own per­spec­tive, I’ll do what I think needs to be done to pro­tect the county and en­sure that we’re not be­ing sab­o­taged by a rogue county com­mis­sioner.”

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