Tuesday saw the Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) gather for their first regular meeting and first round of decision-making in 2018. The Board heard their annual First-of-Year resolutions, accomplishing such rote business as setting the year’s public meetings, building closures, and mileage reimbursement, as well as re-appointing department heads and other positions that serve “at the pleasure of the Board.”  In all, they passed eight resolutions and voted down one, declining to re-appoint Alan Hassler as the County Attorney.

In standard business, the BOCC appointed Commissioner Merrit Linke to serve as Chair in 2018, with Commissioner Rich Cimino acting as Chair for Tuesday’s meeting, as Linke was in attendance by phone. Keeping their most recent schedule, they approved the first four Tuesdays of each month for their regular Board meetings, to be held at 8:30 a.m. in the Commissioners’ Meeting Room. County buildings will remain open for business Monday through Friday, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Holiday closures will include the designated federal holidays with one exception,  the replacement of the Columbus Day observance with the day after Thanksgiving. All County buildings will also close at noon on December 24.

Following the recommendations of County Finance Director Curtis Lange, County employees will be reimbursed for eligible mileage at 54.5¢ per mile. The maximum daily allowance for meals and incidental expenses related to travel within Colorado was set at $59 a day, and the per-diem for travel outside the state “not to exceed the rates set forth by the US General Service Administration for the location of travel.” Personal cell phones used in place of County-provided ones may be reimbursed at $25 a month.

The BOCC re-appointed the majority of the current department heads, voting unanimously to support the appointments of Lee Staab as County Manager, Chris Baird to Road & Bridge, Duane Daily to Veteran Services, Kirk Magnusson to Information Systems, Kelly Friesen to Juvenile Services, Tom Leatherwood to Community Services, and Ray Jennings to Emergency Management and EMS. Sitting as the respective Boards of Health and Human Services, they re-appointed Directors Bryn Belew-LaDue and Deb Ruttenberg, and Tom Leatherwood as a Health Officer.

The appointment of County Attorney was left blank, as an earlier resolution had failed to retain Mr. Hassler, who has served in the position since July 2015, following the retirement of long-time County Attorney Anthony “Jack” DiCola. The direction of the vote seemed to come as a surprise, even to some of the Commissioners.

Commissioner Kris Manguso read the proposed resolution, as the others. But rather than an immediate vote, Cimino took the opportunity to invite discussion. “My personal position is to vote ‘no’ on this appointment, under Section 12(a) provision of the contract,” he said, referencing an option under which “the County shall pay the County Attorney severance pay in a lump sum at the then current pay rate for three months beyond the termination of employment.”

Manguso, who voted against the retention of Hassler at the beginning of 2017, agreed without further discussion.

Linke, however, offered strong support to retain. “I’m going to have to say that I disagree. I don’t believe it’s the right thing to do at this time to terminate the County Attorney. I think that, yes, there have been some things that have caused some issues. But overall, I think he’s done a good job and has made a lot of progress, in light of a probably difficult year, with Mr. Franek [Assistant County Attorney] being ill. And he has made a lot of headway with streamlining the operations. And I do not support the termination of the County Attorney.”

“I welcome having a healthy amount of discussion on this,” was Cimino’s response. “This is not a light-weight matter at all. I respect those comments. I came on last year, and I had many citizens and colleagues discuss, one way or the other, the services of the County Attorney. And I wanted to observe myself first-hand for a whole year. I think it’s in the best interest of the County to seek a new direction. I think this is a good time. He’s completed most of the contract.”

He continued, again referencing the attorney’s contract. “I also would implore, if we proceed with a ‘no’ vote on this resolution that – in Section 12(e), it reads, ‘it is understood that after notice of termination in any form, County Attorney and County will cooperate to provide for an orderly transition, specific responsibilities during such transition to be specified in a written separation agreement’. So I hope that we can orderly go through this process and go through a hiring process and find a new County Attorney and proceed in the future in that direction.

It was a difficult end of the year. But there is a Assistant County Attorney that is serving the County very well and has some health issues but is still, I think, serving in a very sufficient, exemplary capacity. And in other counties, whenever they go through this process, there is often contracted attorneys. County business proceeds however necessary. It’s not an abnormal process for counties to go through. I think it’s time for a new direction.”

“Again, I strongly disagree with this direction,” Linke voiced. “I don’t believe that this is the proper time to change out. I think things are going along good enough. And I think that there have been some learning curves. But I think those issues have worked themselves out. I just think that this is very short-sighted to terminate the County Attorney. I don’t think we have any real legitimate grounds to do so, other than just a few mistakes that were made, but that I think have been corrected. And I strongly disagree with this direction at this time.”

The motion to re-appoint was re-read and failed, with an ‘aye’ vote from Commissioner Linke and ‘no’ votes from Commissioners Cimino and Manguso.

In response to questions from the Winter Park Times as to the motivations to not retain, Manguso refrained from commenting, citing confidentiality of personnel issues. And Cimino simply said that he was “interested in the County moving in a new direction.” For Linke’s part, he says he “supports the decision of the Board. The decision was made and we will move forward with it.”

But how that movement may happen seems to be up in the air. Linke indicated that “the hiring process is only in the initial stages and it’s quite likely we’ll enlist the help of CCI or DOLA,” referring to Colorado Counties, Inc., a non-profit supporting local Colorado governments and officials, and the State Department of Local Affairs. And Cimino expressed uncertainty about the current structure of the office. “I am not sure the County needs two full-time attorneys. The County could have one full-time attorney and contract out for additional legal services. It would shrink government and save taxpayer dollars. The Board will evaluate this very carefully.”

Mr. Hassler also declined any comment on the decision or what he may do from here. “At this point, I still have a client and responsibilities to that client and responsibilities as a professional.”