Saturday, August 8, 2020

Gunnison County Met Rec district dismisses operations manager

Looking for a more “robust” television system

By Mark Reaman

The Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation (Met Rec) District board of directors made another personnel change to its administration last week.

The board voted 4-0 at its August 21 meeting to fire operations manager Bill Cote. Cote and the board have had a contentious relationship since new board members were elected three years ago. It came to a head during a meeting last November when Cote, then–general manager Lori Patin and the two south valley board members had several heated exchanges with board members from the north end of the valley.

Patin was dismissed last March after she refused to discuss a job performance evaluation and changes in her job duties with the board without her attorney. The board then hired Hedda Petersen in May to fill the revised full-time job as general manager.

“When Hedda was hired we asked her to try to work with Bill in what was probably a new structure for him,” explained Met Rec board chairman Dave Clayton. “That didn’t work out. But ultimately we feel we are moving on a good path and think in the long run this will bolster the television system.”

Clayton emphasized that the board has no intention of moving away from the television aspect of the district. “We’ve done what we said we would do when we ran,” Clayton said in reference to himself and fellow board members Ian Billick and Derrick Nehrenberg. “We want a robust television system and an increasing recreation element. We can do both.”

Peterson said the operation of the district’s translator system has had little redundancy. Several technician assistants have come and gone. “We are bringing on an outside engineer from Grand Junction that maintains the KBUT translators,” she explained. “That is the immediate step to manage the technological aspects and address potential maintenance issues. The ultimate goal is to build a system where there might be a few issues a year instead of every other week.”

There was not much discussion in the meeting concerning Cote’s firing. Cote chose to not meet with the board in executive session. In a letter to the editor (see page 3), he said Met Rec had fostered a “toxic work environment” and efforts were made to basically push him out. He expressed concern about maintaining the television system.

Clayton said the district’s television equipment is designed to work in areas like Gunnison County that require remote locations but said some of the equipment is getting old. “We just had an independent audit of the translator system and we are now more aware of some potential issues we previously didn’t have a full understanding of,” he said. “Those include not only issues with individual pieces of equipment but also what to expect and what will be needed as changes in technology come up. We don’t want to spend a lot of money replacing equipment that may be obsolete in a year or two because of changes to broadcast standards. We are on a replacement program to make the system more robust. The district will always have challenges delivering television in our mountainous area but we feel we are getting set up to deal with them. We are taking a systems approach to this and want to determine the top priorities with television and address them first.”

“So, TV is not going away despite what some people are saying,” added Peterson. “We are figuring out the pieces of the puzzle and like Dave said, there will be challenges. It could get worse before it gets better, but we hope that’s not the case. We’re obligated to maintain television and are moving towards building a robust system.”

Clayton said the board has no plans to replace Cote with a district employee at this time. Instead they hope that using a consultant to get the translator system up to snuff and having a regular preventive maintenance program in place may be a better use of time and money.

“Given the situation, we want to again let people know that the board is behind the television aspect of the district,” said Clayton. “We’ve said that all along. We have a capital replacement plan in place. We’ve been spending money to make it happen. Even after we took the personnel action at the last meeting we approved the purchase of a new generator for one of the translator sites. Our goal is to make television better.”

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