Thursday, May 28, 2020

Met Rec board fires general manager in split vote last week

Could lead to legal action

By Alissa Johnson

The Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District (Met Rec) terminated the position of its general manager, Lori Patin, in a 3-2 vote at the board of directors’ March 27 meeting. The move came with little discussion and followed a series of written exchanges between the board, Patin and attorneys for both parties.

Since November, Patin’s performance and the role of the general manager have been points of contention among board members. The issues came to a head during a public meeting when several board members from the north end of the valley expressed frustration with Patin’s performance. Since then, the board created a personnel committee to conduct Patin’s job performance review and developed a new job description, changing the general manager position from part-time to full-time.

At the March meeting, the Met Rec board intended to hold an executive session to discuss both points with Patin. Board chair Dave Clayton emailed Patin about the session on March 13, also summarizing a March 7 special meeting and executive session job performance review of the board of directors.

“We discussed your feeling that you were evaluated for a position that was different than the position that you have historically held. We also … discussed that you wanted some additional clarity as to the revised job description,” Clayton wrote.

He also wrote, “There was a fairly wide range of feelings within the Board as [to] how to proceed. The consensus that came out of the discussion was to ask you to respond to the Board’s prior evaluations of your performance and provide information on how you would handle the new responsibilities in the revised job description.”

Clayton invited Patin to do so as part of the scheduled March 27 executive session, saying, “Your response can be made verbally and/or in writing as you prefer.”

On March 25, Ridgway attorney Roger F. Sagal of Sagal Law responded to Clayton in writing, on Patin’s behalf. He minced no words in his characterization of the situation.

“The process by which the Board seeks to gauge Ms. Patin’s thoughts on a purported new job position for District Manager appears to be a sham intended to result in her departure from the District,” Sagal wrote. He called the process a “ruse intended to push Ms. Patin out of the door,” and alleged that the Met Rec board had engaged in several violations of the law.

Sagal suggested that the Met Rec board of directors had violated the Colorado Open Meetings Act by publicly discussing Patin’s termination in an open meeting without prior notice. He also alleged that board members had defamed Patin, unlawfully retaliated against her for campaigning against them, and created a hostile work environment for Patin. In addition, Sagal asserted that the Met Rec board had developed a ruse to protect itself against claims of unlawful conduct, and drew a parallel between some of the board’s actions and ageism.

“Any adverse employment action or retaliation taken against Ms. Patin would give rise to a claim against the Board and individual board members under state and federal anti-discrimination laws, the Colorado Open Meetings Act, and C.R.C.P. 106.,” the letter stated.

The following day, on March 26, Met Rec legal counsel attorney Marcus Lock of Law of the Rockies responded to Sagal’s letter by email.

“Tomorrow evening, Ms. Patin will have an opportunity to respond to the Board members’ evaluations of her performance and share with the Board how she has and would plan to fulfill the District Manager’s job responsibilities set forth in the District Manager Job Description adopted by the Board in February. In this regard, I do have one question in response to your letter: Is your client willing to perform the District Manager’s job responsibilities set forth in the District Manager Job Description adopted by the Board in February?” he wrote.

Sagal responded to Lock, again by letter, on March 27, stating that he would be unable to attend and that, “It was our intent that my March 25, 2019 letter to Mr. Clayton serve as Ms. Patin’s response to Mr. Clayton’s inquiries to Ms. Patin.”

At the March 27 board meeting, Patin reiterated to the board that she “did make a response to the issues you made in that memo through my attorney.”

“So I don’t believe, if that’s the case, that we have a need for an executive session at this time,” suggested Clayton. “The executive session was to allow for the board and for you to have a conversation about your moving forward in the position, but the memo has made clear what that position is.”

Board member Ian Billick ultimately made a motion that it was in the “best interest of the district” to terminate Patin’s position. Board member Derrick Nehrenberg seconded, and with no one bringing up points for further discussion, the board voted 3-2 in favor of the motion. Board members Larry Parachini and Paul Wayne Foreman voted against.

Following the vote, Parachini left the meeting early, and Foreman took issue with the idea that Clayton sent Patin an email the board had not approved. Clayton reminded Foreman that the board had directed him to write and send the email to summarize their discussion, and Lock clarified that it is legitimate for the board president to communicate directly with staff.

Foreman was still not satisfied, going so far as to seemingly suggest that Billick had discovered a newfound and sudden interest in completing his fiduciary responsibility as board treasurer because it served his agenda to fire Patin.

“It’s a political board and the three of you had it in your heads that you would like new staff and you voted 3-2 to do this,” Foreman said. “I mean, I would have voted against it, but you would have prevailed had you handled this in a decent and above-board sort of a way. Even though the staff may have been terminated, I’d certainly support that as a board member. But you haven’t, and we all know that’s why Marcus Lock was brought in.”

An earlier motion by Parachini to fire Lock and Law of the Rockies had been defeated in a 3-2 vote, with Parachini and Foreman in favor and Clayton, Billick and Nehrenberg against.

In an email to the Crested Butte News, Patin’s attorney Sagal confirmed, “We believe the Board’s actions against Ms. Patin violated several laws. We intend to pursue all legal remedies available to her.”

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