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Met Rec figuring out both TV and recreation future

But the soap opera won’t end

by Mark Reaman

Despite ongoing tension and animosity among board members, the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District (Met Rec) board as a whole continues to take unified steps in shoring up over-the-air television service and setting up steps to help finance future recreation opportunities in the valley.

At their February meeting, the board allocated approximately $12,000 to replace satellite receivers used to downlink the Comcast signals that provide the Denver broadcast channels. The district pays a subscriber fee to Comcast to receive these signals, and Comcast is making upgrades. The board also hopes to conduct an independent technical audit of the district television translator system.

In terms of recreation, Christie Hicks of the Crested Butte sub-district advisory committee reported that the group has been brainstorming short-term and possible long-term projects.

“High-impact, high-visibility projects where the district could provide large-scale support are good for the Met Rec,” Hicks said. “Met Rec could use some positive coverage.”

Hicks said with the November passage of the ballot issue that increased and freed up some tax funds, there was great potential for Met Rec. “We are very excited at what can be done,” she said. “With the county’s STOR [Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation] committee focusing on outdoor recreation, there is a great partnership opportunity,” since Met Rec could dig in on things like indoor recreation, playing fields or recreation programs.

Hicks said in terms of the long-term future, the advisory committee would “love to have a ballot issue, maybe in 2020, to fund some of these larger projects such as an expanded north valley ice rink or an aquatic center.” Hicks said the advisory committee was in a holding pattern with short term projects because of the perceived uncertainty of a potential recall election that could siphon off district funds.

Board members Paul Wayne Foreman and Larry Parachini emphasized that despite rumors they’d heard, they were advocates of the Met Rec supporting recreation projects, not just TV. Parachini cited the recent contribution of $30,000 for the Shady Island project north of Gunnison that will include some recreation opportunities on the Gunnison River.

Board member Ian Billick cautioned Hicks that the immediate appetite for more taxes in the north end of the valley might not be there, but all ideas should be explored. He indicated that the sooner the advisory committee could come up with concrete ideas the better, so that the entire Met Rec board could be engaged and be part of the process.

Cathie Pagano, Gunnison County director of community and economic development, reported to the board about the efforts being made by the STOR committee and the county. She said the county signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Forest Foundation to establish a Gunnison Stewardship Fund. That money could be used for projects that have a connection to the local national forests. She said the money would be raised in part through voluntary contributions from visitors. She said STOR was also applying for a Great Outdoor Colorado (GoCO) grant for a Gunnison Stewardship Project idea that would also help with outreach, maintenance and infrastructure on outdoor projects.

“Both of these ideas are still in the early stages but we would welcome any contribution from the Met Rec for either project,” she told the board. Pagano said the projects could result in big ideas like a Crested Butte to Crested Butte South trail or simple projects like a new bathroom at Hartman Rocks.

Foreman said the ideas were exciting but noted the district had pretty limited funds for recreation projects. He wanted to make sure the money spent by the district had an impact.

“My goal would be to leverage our funds for the greatest good,” said board member Derrick Nehrenberg.

But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns

The animosity among board members raised its head several times during the February meeting. While board members Billick, Nehrenberg and Dave Clayton want to develop a telecommunications strategy, Foreman contended the board has no authority to fund telecommunications. That led Billick to ask how the evolution of television from strictly over-the-air broadcasting to more digital internet-style TV comes into play. The board will do further research on the topic.

Foreman said a motion he made at the infamous November meeting concerning intra-board member communications was never voted on and he wanted to know why and how to address the issue. Billick said he was willing to vote on the motion immediately. Met Rec attorney Marcus Lock said he would like to give the board legal advice in executive session but Foreman wanted the discussion held in public. That led to some tense exchanges between board members with no resolution, so Foreman again tabled his lingering motion.

Board members discussed how they could get discussion items on the meeting agendas. When Billick made a motion to clarify that any board member should be allowed to place any item on the preliminary agenda, he was met with raised eyebrows. The standard procedure under Robert’s Rules of Order is for the full board to decide the final agenda at the start of every meeting. Foreman and Parachini seemed to distrust the motivation of Billick’s motion and it was tabled.

When it came time to approve the monthly financials, board treasurer Billick again told the board, as he did at the January meeting, that he was not comfortable with the district financials and wasn’t prepared to move that the financials be approved except for the payables. This led Foreman to aggressively quiz Billick on his reasoning.

“You’ve been the treasurer since 2016, so why is it now a problem?” asked Foreman.

“I’m still struggling to understand questions on payroll,” Billick responded. “The fact that I had to struggle to get the timesheets is a concern.”

“What big lights went off that didn’t go off in 2016?” Foreman asked.

“The longer this goes on, it casts aspersions on Lori as an administrator,” added Parachini.

“I still have questions about the finances and as the treasurer it is my fiduciary responsibility,” said Billick. “Any of you can move to approve the financials.”

No one did.

Met Rec attorney Marcus Lock encouraged the board to deal with personnel matters in executive session, since some of the discussion might have questioned administrative performance.

“The point is, Ian has been treasurer since May 2016 and some event happened in November 2018. I’m trying to get an answer to what changed,” said Foreman. “And no answer is an answer.”

Parachini then asked how long the district would continue to pay two lawyers, citing thousands of dollars in attorney fees on the latest billing cycle.

Clayton said the district had one legal counsel, Law of the Rockies. The board had agreed that former attorney for the district, Tom Mullans, could be consulted on business and questions specific to Colorado special district law.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Parachini. “You have a law firm to protect yourselves.”

Lock took offense at that allegation. “The district is my client, not individual members,” he said. “My responsibility is that the best interests of the district are upheld.”

After more acrimonious discussion the board voted to go into an executive session to discuss possible negotiations and personnel.

When the board returned from executive session, they approved a new job description for the district manager—a full-time, salaried position working from the office in Gunnison. Clayton, Billick and Nehrenberg voted to approve the new job description; Parachini voted against it; Foreman voted “present.”

The board also unanimously agreed to proceed with the employee review process for the district manager, Lori Patin. That looks to happen at a special meeting scheduled for March 7 where the board will go into executive session to discuss personnel matters.

And finally, they unanimously agreed to appoint Loren Ahonen to the Gunnison sub-district advisory committee.

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