Met Wreck? And what about the mill levy?
By Mark Reaman
After winning an election less than a month ago to “de-Bruce” the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District and increase the amount of money it collects each year to go toward over-the-air television and regional recreation projects, the board seems to have dramatically fractionalized over process and personnel issues. Several board members said they were concerned about the possibility of future litigation hampering Met Rec efforts. It appears it is currently at the point where the board may not even get together in time to certify the 2019 mill levy and that could delay collecting any new tax funds just approved by voters.
A request by the Crested Butte News for the board’s audio recording of the November 19 meeting was denied until the request was put to the Met Rec district’s attorney. As of Wednesday there was no response from the district. A video recording of the four-and-a-half-hour November meeting by CBTV shows a meeting filled with arguing, tension and animosity. Accusations flew between board members and staff. Met Rec District manager Lori Patin and operations manager Bill Cote clearly indicated they felt there was a move by some board members to replace them in their jobs and steer the district away from its television focus. Neither were shy about expressing those feelings to board members. Board member Paul Wayne Foreman basically accused the three members from the north end of the valley of deliberating over Met Rec business in private and not following the law. As stated by board member Ian Billick in the video recording, there was clearly “a lack of trust on both sides.”
In follow-up interviews, Foreman accused fellow Met Rec board members of violating the Colorado Open Meetings Law at the last meeting. He said board member Ian Billick brought up “firing Bill and Lori and that topic wasn’t on the agenda.” He also said it appeared to him that a majority of board members had gotten together outside of official meetings to discuss the firings and potential compensation for the staff.
Foreman said the “appropriate place to discuss any personnel issues according to law,” is in an executive session without the public. He said that wasn’t the case at the November meeting. “It actually moved to the point where [board chairman Dave Clayton] was authorized by motion to get a lawyer to find the right way to terminate these people,” Foreman said. “I watched board members breaking the law. At one point Ian said the board would offer a generous termination package. When was that discussed? Not at the meeting.”
Foreman said the idea of hiring a lawyer specifically to advise the board about terminating employees was uncalled for. “Why do we need a different lawyer when we already have one of the best special district lawyers in the state?” he asked. “I’ve never seen anything like this. No notice on the agenda. No executive session. All of a sudden the board is talking about dismissing loyal employees who have been there for years. Dave knew they did something they shouldn’t have.”
Clayton said he was not searching for an outside lawyer with whom to discuss the issues but rather relying on the district’s attorney, Tom Mullans, for legal advice.
Mullans, whose main law office is in Pueblo, was not at the November meeting and had not returned messages the Crested Butte News left with his office and paralegal.
Billick is treasurer of the board and said “personnel issues” was a distinct agenda item on the November meeting. He said personnel items had been discussed at the previous meeting as well. The November agenda did include a section devoted to personnel issues, including the topics of “annual employee review, process.”
“Overseeing staff is one of the more important functions of any board. Managing staff can be challenging in any situation, and especially for a public and rapidly changing organization,” Billick wrote this week via email. “As a public board involving stewardship of public tax monies, all motions/actions must be public. I am happy to clarify public statements or motions I make. But I will limit my public comment as the Board works through its processes, ideally in a prompt fashion and with legal counsel. To clarify my motion, I made a motion to develop a transition plan for staff. The motion did not identify specific individuals, nor did it identify a timeframe, or what that plan would look like.”
Clayton said that to his knowledge there were no laws broken and no action was taken on any of the contentious items discussed at the November 19 meeting. He said he was disappointed that the meeting devolved to the point where both board and staff said things they should probably now regret. But he admitted it brought to the surface obvious friction that will have to be addressed. “Right now we need to figure out a way as the board to take the momentum we received from voters with the passage of 7D and produce results that benefit both television and recreation,” he said. “As for some of the other things that were brought up at the meeting or subsequent to it, we are consulting with the district’s attorney to make sure everything is done in compliance with proper laws, rules and procedures.”
Mill levy madness?
“The current problem is that we have to certify the mill levy and assessment by December 15 and the meeting we had scheduled for December 10 is now off because there isn’t a quorum,” Foreman added. “I’m not sure of the ramifications.”
Patin said the special district board had until December 14 to officially certify the mill levy and the cancellation of the December 10 meeting presented “a problem.”
The Gunnison county assessor’s office said that all special districts must certify the 2019 mill levy by December 15. If that is not done, and it is something that has not happened in recent history, the Gunnison County commissioners have an option to possibly set the mill levy to the previous year’s level.
Patin said the Met Rec mill levy certified for 2018 was .572 and generated about $300,000.
“There are obviously tensions between some board members and staff,” said board member Derrick Nehrenberg. “My goal is to eventually deal with that but more important, deal with the positive things we can accomplish with the passage of 7D. We need a plan and we need some board cohesion. And right now we don’t have either. But we have a great opportunity for better over-the-air TV and better recreation in the future.”
Foreman too saw hope for the future. “We basically are five decent human beings. I’m not sure how, but I’m confident it will all work out,” he said.
Board member Larry Parachini did not respond to an email asking about the situation.