Monument trustees’ feud costs clerk, treasurer, attorney their jobs
Author: Rachel Riley, The Gazette - May 18, 2018 - Updated: May 18, 2018
Three key Monument staff members don’t know if they still have jobs after half of the town’s Board of Trustees were no-shows at a Wednesday night meeting and missed the deadline to reappoint them.
Treasurer Pamela Smith came to Town Hall on Thursday because she also serves as the interim town manager. Town Clerk Laura Hogan and Town Attorney Alicia Corley did not come to work, after trustees failed to reappoint them within the 30-day period allowed under state law after new trustees were sworn in April 16.
The board remains split 3-3 on reappointing the three employees because the newly elected mayor, Don Wilson, formerly was a trustee and his seat on the seven-member board remains vacant until a replacement is appointed.
In the meantime, the board is deadlocked with Wilson, Kelly Elliott and Ron Stephens in favor of keeping the current staff and Jeffrey Bornstein, Greg Coopman and Laurie Clark opposed.
“This is clearly a political move,” Wilson told about a dozen people in the audience at Wednesday’s aborted meeting. “I want the town staff to know that I’m very sorry.”
Wilson said he’s unsure what the missed deadline means, but it’s his understanding that Hogan, Smith and Corley are “no longer authorized” to work for the town. Smith continues in her interim position, which she has filled since the town manager, Chris Lowe, was suspended with pay in February amid allegations of misconduct, including sexual harassment. Lowe has denied the accusations.
As the town’s day-to-day administrator, Smith said she has placed Hogan and Corley on paid administrative leave until the board receives legal advice on how to move forward. Because Corley and Hogan are no longer appointed, Smith added, they would not be protected by governmental immunity and could be held personally liable if they faced legal issues for performing their town duties.
Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, said the fight over the staff appointments casts serious doubts on whether the town’s divided leadership can govern effectively.
“Dysfunction – when you’re this terribly split – is not good,” Mamet said. “It’s just not healthy.”
He said he couldn’t recall when a town had failed to make the reappointments by the statutory deadline.
“The only guidance I have left to give to Monument is spiritual guidance,” he said. “I just don’t know what their options are at this point.”
The impasse among the trustees arose after the April 3 election, in which Wilson defeated Bornstein in the mayoral race, Elliott was re-elected to the board and newcomers Clark and Stephens won seats.
On May 7, Bornstein, Coopman and Clark voted against reappointing the town staff, citing problems obtaining information, including what is going on with the investigation into the allegations against the town manager.
Wilson subsequently scheduled two special meetings – first, on Monday and then, after Bornstein, Clark and Coopman failed to show, another on Wednesday, which the same three again boycotted.
Wilson had hoped, he said, to resolve the gridlock and give the board a chance to get legal advice in executive session from the town’s insurer, the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, about the ramifications of not reappointing the clerk, treasurer and attorney.
Wilson, Elliott and Stephens have said they are unaware of any issues with the employees’ job performance and have criticized the other three trustees for their unwillingness to even discuss why they are against reappointment.
Coopman had sent an email to the Town Clerk Hogan Wednesday afternoon saying he would not attend the meeting that night.
“While I respect and support the mayor’s authority to call a special meeting of the board, I cannot support a special meeting that gives the appearance of impropriety with the sole intent of readdressing and revoting on an issue that has already been closed,” Coopman said in the email, which he provided to The Gazette.
Coopman stated that he opposed holding the discussion in closed meeting out of the public’s view, and that he didn’t believe that the three staff members would be immediately fired if they were not reappointed before Thursday.
“The limited information that I have received indicates that there is nothing that specifically prohibits these staff members from remaining in the towns’ employ until a successor is appointed,” he said in the email.
He also accused town staff of inappropriately withholding the results of the recently completed investigation into the suspended town manager’s conduct. Lowe was suspended after he suspended Police Chief Jacob Shirk after giving Shirk a scathing job review. Shirk, who has since been reinstated, filed a counter-complaint against Lowe, the details of which remain confidential, except that they involve sexual harassment.
At the board’s request, the investigation was conducted independently by CIRSA. Town staff had no control over the timeline of the investigation, and the report wasn’t available until early this week, Smith said. The board was slated to discuss the findings at Wednesday’s meeting.
In an email to The Gazette on Wednesday night, Clark said she was “highly uncomfortable being hastily called to a closed executive session” and being forced to vote “after several days of excessive harassment and pressure.”
She stated that she has “received misleading legal information from the town attorney” and that Smith had denied her other information, including answers to questions about the way the town has spent its general fund.
“Information is being withheld that is necessary to perform my oath of office and duties,” Clark said. “I shared these concerns with the staff and both CIRSA and the mayor to no avail.”
Bornstein did not respond to phone message Wednesday and Thursday. In opposing reappointment May 7, Bornstein mentioned delays in the Lowe investigation.
After Wilson closed the Wednesday night meeting, he allowed trustees and members of the public to make comments that were taped and posted online with the meeting footage.
Elliott offered praise for Hogan, Smith and Corley.
“They’re dedicated, they’re committed and they’re hardworking. And they’re being treated like this. This is absolutely unconscionable,” she said. “You either want to serve the town of Monument by attending executive sessions to discuss real issues – even if you don’t agree – or you need to resign. Period.”
Members of the public and a few town employees also expressed disappointment in Coopman, Bornstein and Clark.
Lowe, who was in the audience, asked that the board take action against him if necessary, but not punish the town treasurer, clerk and attorney.
“Every one of them knows exactly how to do their job and does it without any political influence one way or another,” Lowe said. “If there are things that need to be done politically against myself, do those, but don’t do it against those three individuals.”
The board’s next meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Monday, but it would not be able to get legal advice on the Lowe investigation then because CIRSA representative are unable to attend.
Smith emphasized that the absences of Hogan and Corley won’t affect the day-to-day operations of the town, which employs about 50 people.
“Everybody is there and working and the town is open for business – a little bit short-handed, of course – but we’ll get through this,” Smith said.
Attempts to reach Corley and Hogan via email and Facebook message were unsuccessful.