In case you were not aware, there has been another major lawsuit filed against Elbert County. The details of it have been posted at TruthColorado.com. This is the PDF file of the complaint filed against the BOCC. http://www.truthcolorado.com/Downloads/Fenner-Suit.pdf It is a suit that alleges a series of violations of The Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The Plaintiff is Kyle Fenner, the Director of Community Development and the Planning Department. To tell you the truth, it does not look good for Elbert County. The BOCC essentially surveilled the computers on which Ms. Fenner does her work. They took at least 50,000 screen shots from her computer, made false allegations that she was making disparaging comments about other employees and was engaging in criminal behavior. Ms. Fenner underwent a thorough investigation by the Mountain States Employees Council (MSEC), the District Attorney, and a special counsel brought in to review the MSEC's findings, and she was exonerated of all charges. Unfortunately for the taxpayers of the county, problematic reviews of the pending investigation were openly discussed in public meetings, sent out to citizens via large email lists, and given to the EC Sheriff's Department as if Fenner would most certainly be charged with criminal behavior. Much private information of hers was shared. Defaming comments were made about her. In my opinion Ms. Fenner was treated unfairly in violation of many rules and regulations. Such is the culture of Elbert County Government.
I am not generally a betting man, but this seems like a pretty safe wager; Elbert County will lose another in a long series of lawsuits. Ms. Fenner has a good case and a good lawyer. We have County Attorney Wade Gately and a lot of explaining to do. Just when we had a new set of commissioners poised to do God-knows-what to improve our ever-failing money situation, up pops another expensive legal problem. It has almost become a cliche. We were going to do really big things this year, but the calendar got away from us and we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of "lawsuit season."
Why does this keep happening to us? We have a history of one lawsuit after another stretching back to the days of John Dunn. Look, I do not want to slam the good folks who go to work at the Kiowa Courthouse four days a week to try and keep this county running any more than you do. But there is something wrong with the culture of a few people who seem to rise to the top (or sink to the bottom, as the case may be). We long ago stopped trying to do things the way we are supposed to. We used to be able to make ends meet by evaluating properties, collecting the taxes, issuing license plates and issuing building permits through a full service building department. Other counties do it, but we seem to have lost our way. We are in a perpetual state of putting departments back on their feet. The list of difficulties seems endless.
Perhaps I am wrong, but I do not believe that I am. Our county got off track some years back when the whole Justice Center debacle went sour on us. A lot of unfortunate mistakes were made trying to first save, then replace the facility that was riddled with mold. These were unintentional mistakes but costly and embarrassing ones that caused much consternation and division between various departments in our local government. Instead of trying to tighten the budget and set a prudent fiscal course to right the ship, we saw politicians trying to scheme ways out of the morass. Our local government began to look for quick and easy ways to heal the hemorrhaging coffers. This included using what I consider to be predatory lenders, exploring nontraditional means to increase revenues, like the model traffic code and romancing dubious developers who even back then had eyes on selling our water in the Denver Bedrock Aquifers. Of course in order to do this it became incumbent upon our leaders to begin keeping these new and questionable methods out of the view of the prying eyes of a public who might object to this more reckless form of leadership. Transparency began to become a thing of the past. Budgetary information that you could get from open records was unintelligible unless you were the actual bookkeeper. Budgetary appropriation practices began to disappear and the firewall between the general fund and other accounts went away.
When the rules begin to be skirted it becomes easier and easier for a culture of mistrust and blame to raise its ugly head. Power struggles are born in this type of environment and power struggles are what define our local government today. I suggest that if we do get our comeuppance in this latest and potentially devastating lawsuit that we reboot the culture in the Kiowa Courthouse. We need to live within our means. We need to promote a culture that encourages transparency and rewards those who take positive action when they discover wrongdoing. The lawsuits will stop when the elected officials live up to their oaths instead of naively believing that they can control the beast that they inherited via election.
We may not always agree on the direction our government may choose to take us, but our democracy was designed to work well as long as our elected officials follow the rules and provide their constituents to view and review proposed rules, plans and decisions while they do their jobs. Simply put, lawsuits are a side effect of corrupt behavior. Just something to think about.