Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirDecember 8, 20175min876

The Steamboat Pilot & Today reports that Brita Horn, the elected Republican treasurer of Routt County who is running to be the next treasurer of Colorado, is once again facing off with officials in her own county over how she runs her office. According the the Pilot & Today’s Scott Franz, “the work environment and top management at the county treasurer’s office” are being called out in a memo sent to Routt County’s human resources department.

Writes Franz:

The memo, which outlined the observations of Yampa Valley Regional Airport Director Kevin Booth, Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins and Clerk and Recorder Recording Supervisor Barb Houston, stated the three officials walked away from a grievance hearing for a treasurer’s office employee thinking “there is reason for concern about fair and equitable treatment of (treasurer’s office) employees below the level of Chief Deputy Treasurer.”

The memo raises serious questions about Treasurer Brita Horn’s leadership of the office at a time she is seeking higher office in the state as Colorado’s treasurer.

Horn had clashed with her county government over another matter just last August. As Colorado Politics’ Ernest Luning explained in a report at the time:

The problem … involved a computer system that calculates how much of the tax revenue the county collects gets distributed to the county, towns, schools, libraries and other taxing entities within its boundaries. When it came time for Horn’s office to send out checks for April tax receipts, it turns out, she only distributed money from a nine-day period, instead of the whole month, leaving $5.8 million sitting in treasurer coffers until July, when the error was discovered and the funds delivered.

The mistake that left local taxing entities short nearly $6 million for months. Horn told Luning then, “…not one dime of Routt County tax dollars was lost or misspent or that one Routt County program lost even one dime … And I definitely take responsibility that this issue has been corrected and, moving forward, will never happen again.”

Horn also responded to her latest round in the hot seat. Reports the Pilot & Today’s Franz:

…Horn defended the work environment at her office and said there is a “strong moral fiber” among current members of the staff.

Horn blamed a major property tax distribution error on (former county treasurer’s office employee Rani) Gilbert and fired her for other reasons, but Gilbert contested the firing and alleged unfair treatment and discrimination under Horn’s leadership.

Franz also offers more details of the latest criticism leveled at Horn:

The officials wrote in the memo they had heard enough evidence at the private grievance hearing to “substantiate reason for concern that employees below the level of Chief Deputy Treasurer fear retaliation from their supervisors if they question the actions, methods and/or directives of their supervisors.”

The officials also stated in the memo the county should be concerned about whether the workload distribution in the treasurer’s office is equitable, whether supervisors and bookkeepers have adequate training and whether Treasurer Brita Horn has adopted adequate checks and balances in the wake of a nearly $6 million property tax error her office made this summer.

In the state treasurer’s race, Horn so far is vying with five other Republicans for the GOP nomination: Brett Barkey (who is district attorney of Grand, Moffat and Routt counties), state Rep, Justin Everett, state Rep. Polly Lawrence, state Sen. Kevin Lundberg and Brian Watson. On the Democratic side of the ledger, state Rep. Steve Lebsock — in hot water over widely reported sexual-harassment allegations — state Rep. Dave Young and Bernard Douthit are running for the treasurer’s post.


David O. WilliamsDavid O. WilliamsNovember 5, 20179min865
Former Obama field organizer and state legislative policy analyst Dylan Roberts wasn’t planning to jump back into politics after he got his law degree from the University of Colorado and landed a job as a deputy district attorney in Eagle County. Then Trump happened. “I was going to take a break from politics for a […]

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Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandOctober 12, 20179min398
The announcement this week from Scott Pruitt of the Environmental Protection Agency that he would rescind the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan is, not surprisingly, welcome news to Colorado’s coal industry, as well as to the communities the industry supports. But whether the end of the Clean Power Plan will actually change anything in Colorado […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 5, 20173min327
Just when drones were going legit as a tool of public safety, a rubbernecker reminds folks why the jury is still out on which side of the public safety debate the tiny aircraft hover. Last weekend regular-sized helicopters battling a 800-acre Big Red Park wildfire in northern Routt County were grounded because of an unidentified […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 8, 20175min3267

Six coal-producing Colorado counties could get a boost in economic development and job training from a newly offered bill from Sen. Michael Bennet.

“Colorado’s coal communities have been hit hard economically by a long-term decline in coal demand that has accelerated over the last decade,” the Democrat from Denver said in a statement Monday afternoon. “This legislation would help these communities by spurring investment, job creation and economic growth through tax cuts and support for high-quality worker training.”

The Coal Community Empowerment Act would designate six counties in Colorado — among 90 across the country — as Coal Community Zones, which Bennet labels Coal Communities.

With such a designation, Delta, Gunnison, Las Animas, Moffat, Rio Blanco, and Routt counties would be eligible for “a powerful array of place-based incentives,” the senator’s office said.

“These communities have been hit hard by the downturn in coal prices and demand in recent years, and this legislation will help local workers and leaders strengthen and diversify their economies as they deal with the broader market forces that continue to pressure coal production,” a statement from Bennet’s office said.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee. According to Congress.Gov on Monday night, Bennet still had no co-sponsors.

A report released in 2015 by Western State Colorado University in Gunnison said the state’s 12 mines in 2001 produced 33.4 million tons of coal, but the nine mines still operating in 2014 dug up just 18.7 million tons, a 44 percent decline.

Most of Colorado’s coal is used to generate electricity, but the percent of electricity generated by coal has declined from 90 percent in 1990 to 60 percent in 2014, among other factors behind the decline.

“Facing these challenges on a local level can be extremely
difficult,” the report states. “The abrupt economic transitions can impose serious hardship on individuals and families, pose immense challenges to local government, and generate economic and political instability. It can divide communities rather than lead them to work together. In order to achieve the full benefits of exploiting nonrenewable resource endowments, economists recommend planning for the future, at all levels, from federal coal policy, to state management of revenues, to local planning for a post-coal transition when the resource runs out. Individuals, families, companies, advocacy groups, and governments all have a role in planning viable long-term options.”

To qualify for the Coal Community aid proposed by Bennet, counties would have to meet two conditions:

  • To have lost at least 50 coal mining jobs since 2011 from a workforce of less than 20,000.
  • Have more than 5 percent of its employed workforce in coal mining jobs that are vulnerable to declining demands.

The bill provides a $3,000 tax credit for employers who hire individuals who live or work in a Coal Community and $300 million in additional New Markets Tax Credits.

The bill also cites $1 billion in private activity bonds for low-cost loans to build facilities, as well as tax incentives to build or revitalize commercial buildings, with a raft of other potential tax breaks.

Students in coal communities also could apply for aid to fund education and training for good-paying jobs, while colleges and nonprofits could expand career training programs with the help of government grants.

Businesses also could apply for grants to train and hire workers.

“We have an obligation to provide our coal communities with the support they need to implement the strategies they’ve developed, so they can thrive again in today’s economy,” Bennet said.


Ernest LuningErnest LuningAugust 3, 20177min421

Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn, a Republican candidate for state treasurer, fired back Wednesday at county commissioners questioning the way she’s handled a mistake that left local taxing entities short nearly $6 million for months. Horn also denied the incident might damage her statewide campaign, telling Colorado Politics the imbroglio demonstrates she has the skills to handle problems in a treasurer’s office when they arise.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 2, 20174min412

Schools, libraries and other public services in Routt County were shorted millions of dollars in tax revenue for months due to an error by the county treasurer’s office, and questions about the snafu are now dogging county Treasurer Brita Horn — who is campaigning for state treasurer.

Steamboat Today reported on Tuesday that Horn acknowledged and took responsibility for the episode in a July 20 letter to the more than 100 taxing entities that were affected. But the newspaper said she declined as recently as Tuesday to explain how the breakdown occurred, “…other than to make references to a software vendor and a personnel issue she said she couldn’t discuss in public.”

The office had failed to distribute a total of some $5.8 million that had been collected through the various public entities. All the entities in question have since been made whole, but it took until July 24 — well over two months late.

Routt County commissioners, among others, want answers:

The commissioners have now sent two letters to Horn in recent days seeking answers about the incomplete tax payments.

In the second letter, sent late Tuesday afternoon, the commissioners took a stronger tone and called Horn’s previous responses to their questions in a Friday letter as “unacceptable.”

Horn responded to the initial letter from the commissioners by saying in an email her office is “taking this issue seriously and we will get back to you and the BCC as soon as we can with how the treasurers’ office will be handling the situation at hand.”

Affected tax entities left in the lurch included the likes of the Hayden School District, which had to go without over a half-million dollars during the period in question.

(The school district’s) Finance Director Jnl Linsacum said before the mistake was discovered, the district borrowed some money from an interest-free loan program and was also considering reaching out to the Colorado Department of Education about a contingency loan.

The Steamboat Today account says Horn :vowed the mistake wouldn’t happen again”:

“I don’t call it an issue, I call it a concern,” Horn said of the incomplete payments. “Routt County has some of the most amazing people that work for the citizens, and we’re finding these people are humans and make mistakes. I definitely take responsibility for the staff, and I’m ensuring it’s not going to happen again.”

Horn announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination for state treasurer in June.

“I’m the grassroots girl on the ground who will roll up her sleeves and start looking for solutions that’ll work for everyday Coloradans,” she said at the time.

Three other Republicans are also in the running: state Rep. Justin Everett of Littleton, state Rep. Polly Lawrence of Roxborough Park, and state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, of Berthoud. State Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton is the only Democrat so far in the race.

The current state treasurer, Republican Walker Stapleton, is term-limited and is expected to run for governor.


Ernest LuningErnest LuningJuly 29, 20175min1044

Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan, a Democrat serving her second term, announced Friday she's running for the House District 26 seat held by state Rep. Diane Mitsch Busch, who is running for Congress. Ryan joins Eagle County Deputy District Attorney Dylan Roberts, also a Democrat, in the race. The Democrats might have a candidate for the seat by the end of the year, however, because both Ryan and Roberts plan to apply for the vacancy Mitsch Bush has said she'll create when she resigns in November to run full-time against U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton in the 3rd Congressional District.


Ernest LuningErnest LuningJuly 20, 20175min836

Democratic Party luminary Jason Kander gave Eagle County prosecutor Dylan Roberts some advice a few months back, and this week he took it. Kander, a former Missouri secretary of state and 2016 U.S. Senate nominee, delivered the keynote address at the Colorado Democratic Party's annual dinner in March, the same night Roberts presented a pair of awards from the state party named for his brother Murphy Roberts, who died last summer at age 22.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 5, 20174min425 and other news media have reported extensively on efforts by the 2017 legislature to tackle the rampant abuse of opioids across Colorado; notably, a pilot program authored by two Democratic state lawmakers from Pueblo was OK’d by their peers and signed into law by the governor. Senate Bill 74, sponsored by Sen. Leroy Garcia and Rep. Daneya Esgar, will use marijuana tax revenue to train practitioners and expand treatment for opioid addiction in Pueblo and Routt counties, two places hit hard by the abuse of the drugs.

Of course, that effort just scratches the surface. It’s tempting whenever the legislature acts on a crisis to declare it solved, but we all know better, and an overview by Pulp Newsmagazine of the ongoing fight against rampant opioid abuse in Pueblo reminds us of the scale of the problem. Pulp’s Kara Mason writes:

The evolution of opioid addiction in Colorado, particularly in Southern Colorado, has been aggressive to say the least.

In April, a multi-agency report under the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention showcased a grave picture of the problem across the state: heroin-related deaths doubled from 2011 to 2015, heroin seizures by Colorado law enforcement increased 2,035 percent during the same time period and the number of people who were in treatment for heroin addiction increased 128 percent.

And one takeaway from Mason’s reporting is that delving deeper into the opioid issue involves more than just legislation; for one thing, it requires concerted action by the communities most affected, like Pueblo:

In each 2015 and 2016, Pueblo County saw 12 overdoses related to opioid use — the highest death count in the state, three times the state rate. And according to Dr. Michael Nerenberg, who runs the mobile needle exchange program in Pueblo, the problem isn’t getting better. It’s getting worse.

At a February Pueblo City Council work session Nerenberg said over the course of a year — June 2015 to June 2016 — the exchange had a reported 3,020 visits, which comes out to just over 250 visits per month. The needle exchange saw 420 total new clients and distributed nearly 200,000 needles. 118,000 were collected by the volunteers, which Nerenberg said is a conservative estimate.

How have city government and other agencies responded? What more could they do? And what role can the federal government play? Read Mason’s story for insights into those and many other questions swirling around Colorado’s opioid crisis. Pueblo is as good a place as any to look for answers; the Steel City is on the frontline of the battle.