Law of the Rockies to be attorney for district
by Mark Reaman
Despite the obvious continuing tension between board members, the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District (Met Rec) has made progress on recent goals.
The board hired a local attorney to act as the district legal counsel; officially appointed five people to two district subcommittees to advise the main board on potential recreation matters; began formulating updated mission and vision statements for the district; and agreed to spend some funds on capital improvements for both a new vehicle and some broadcasting equipment.
Of course the bad blood between the board members from the south part of the valley—Paul Wayne Foreman and Larry Parachini—and those in the north part of the valley—Dave Clayton, Ian Billick and Derrick Nehrenberg—boiled to the top several times during the monthly board meeting held January 16 in Crested Butte.
There were accusations, insinuations of potential litigation between themselves and staff members, disagreements over what issues could be discussed in public and what had to be kept behind closed doors and even about whether or not it was necessary to have a lawyer at the meetings.
The district’s longtime attorney, Tom Mullans, practices out of Pueblo and does not regularly attend meetings.
A subcommittee of Billick and Clayton recommended the district hire Law of the Rockies to be the local legal counsel for the district.
“In 14 or 15 years I can recall only a handful of times legal counsel has been needed at a meeting as far as I’ve seen,” said Foreman. “The idea of this little $550,000 recreation district going into executive session for something other than personnel matters is highly unlikely. It seems a poor use of resources.”
Clayton, who is chairman of the board, said it might not be a need for every meeting but he felt it prudent to have a lawyer to consult before and during executive sessions, for example, “to make sure it is all done properly.”
Billick pointed out the extreme contentiousness of the November meeting and said he would like access to the proper tools to navigate such meetings in the future. He said he felt that operations manager Bill Cote had clearly threatened to take him to court during the November meeting and have him in front of judge Steven Patrick and indicated Cote had also threatened to sue the district. Billick recalled that Foreman had advised Cote “to lawyer up” at the same meeting.
Cote refuted that version of the meeting and said Billick was not correct in his recollection.
“If I am misremembering, then that is a reason I would want a district lawyer at the meetings,” he said.
“I want to keep [the district] out of litigation and make sure we are doing things properly,” added Clayton.
“You three are the people that caused the sloppiness,” retorted Foreman.
Law of the Rockies attorney Marcus Lock weighed in that—having heard board members throw around the word “litigation” several times during the early part of the January 16 meeting, and listening to not quite accurate interpretations of the state’s Sunshine Law governing executive sessions—it was apparent to him that a lawyer could help the board.
“Having an attorney at the meetings could help the district operate more effectively and efficiently. In terms of my role if hired, I would be here to represent the needs of the district, not any individual board members,” he explained. “At the end of the day you are a public government and you all want to do the best for the constituents.”
Foreman said he respected Lock’s reasoning “but I am going on my history of the board.” He and Parachini voted against hiring Lock to represent the district as legal counsel. As part of the motion that was approved 3-2, Mullans might still be consulted on some matters pertaining to special districts and issues that began around the extremely contentious November meeting.
Reviewing staff—or not
In further spillover from the angry November meeting, when the board began discussing scheduled personnel reviews, Foreman and Parachini did not feel it was proper to continue with the reviews of the two staff members, Cote and district manager Lori Patin.
“Can we even make a review?” asked Foreman. “Against what standards would they be reviewed? A review based on any kind of verbal communication is not defensible. I also think a pall sits over this process, based on comments at the November meeting. I think both employees feel their termination is imminent, based on those comments when in public session board members stated they wished to remove the current staff. That’s never been retracted. The employees are working with a sword hanging over their heads. I feel there is a shadow over the process.”
“I don’t think that’s the case,” responded Clayton. “My personal opinion is I don’t like reviewing people based on a laundry list job description. I think goals can be better defined and we can get through it. The only effort is to go forward. I don’t know what the result will be.”
Billick said he didn’t think it was the board’s responsibility to review the operations manager, as that was the duty of the district manager.
The board will move forward with a personnel review of Patin, much of which will likely occur in executive session, at the next meeting.
And more contention
The board had several 3-2 votes on motions made by Parachini in relation to the previous lawyer and his opinions in regard to the infamous November meeting. Mullans had provided a memo to the board with answers to some questions that arose from that meeting.
Parachini wanted to make the memo public. Lock advised that given the number of times board members had noted the possibility of future litigation at the current meeting, the information contained in the memo was attorney-client privilege and should be kept between the attorney and the board. Parachini and Foreman voted to release the information anyway, but the motion lost 3-2.
Parachini then moved to have the board contact Mullans and see if he had any additional advice on the matter, based on his opinions in the memo. That passed 3-2, with Clayton joining Foreman and Parachini.
Parachini then moved to have the attorney be consulted on what a board member should do if they believed other board members were violating laws governing the special district.
Billick said that was a legitimate request and that information should be available to everyone. Parachini amended his motion to make it clear he wanted to consult with Mullans and not the newly hired Met Rec attorney.
Clayton pointed out that Lock was in the room and could provide the information, but Foreman and Parachini insisted Mullans be consulted on the matter. With the motion specifically asking for the opinion of Mullans, the motion was defeated 3-2.
And finally, the contentiousness boiled over with what is normally the monthly approval of the district finances.
Billick, the board treasurer, expressed his discomfort with approving the financials since he was not given answers or access to several financial pieces of the district. He relayed that he had gotten pushback and felt pressure when inquiring about some financial matters. “I don’t feel I’m in a position to execute fiduciary responsibility as the treasurer,” he said. “I expect that as treasurer I should be able to understand the district’s finances to the point where I am comfortable.”
When pressed, he gave an example that he did not get the information requested to understand the depth or process of the district making some payments toward Patin’s and Cote’s home expenses.
“It has been difficult to make heads or tails of some situations,” agreed Clayton.
Parachini made a motion to “approve the payables and pay the bills,” which passed unanimously, but the board did not approve the overall financials.
In more positive news…
Three people applied to be members of the north valley advisory committee that will help guide the main board on potential recreation matters. Laura Puckett Daniels, Christie Hicks and Cassia Cadenhead, who were all involved in the passage of the district’s successful de-Brucing effort, 7D, that will result in more revenue for the Met Rec, will make up the advisory committee.
Hedda Peterson and Bryan Wickenhauser were the two applicants for the south valley subcommittee and were also confirmed. Each was given a chance to speak and expressed their optimism with the future potential of the Met Rec district now that it was de-Bruced, which would allow it to gather more funding under state law.
After over-the-air television needs are taken care of, the board has made clear that some of the remaining funds will go toward regional recreation projects.
The main board would be happy to have more people involved in the subcommittee, so if interested you can apply through the Met Rec website.
The board spent an hour discussing strategic planning, starting with how best to communicate what the district does through an updated mission and vision statement. The board wanted to convey that supporting over-the-air television along with helping to “catalyze” and fund other forms of more standard “recreation” would be part of the district’s goals.
The board also agreed to spend $8,400 on three pieces of updated translator equipment to improve their signal strength and reliability. The three pieces of equipment will update two sites located at Sargents and Powderhorn. The board also agreed to spend some capital funds on a new $45,900 truck.