For my entire teaching career I was acutely aware of the fact that under the eyes of the law, I was considered, "a person in authority." I understood from my classes, especially those I received in my M.A. studies from the University of Northern Colorado, just how important that designation truly was. In effect, when children are placed under your supervision, you are essentially in charge of their well-being as if you were a surrogate parent. The responsibility is genuinely immense. The legal system is quick to come down hard on any educator who neglects that responsibility. The mantra is, if you do not wish to assume that responsibility, then choose another profession. It is really that simple.
As a result, teachers often have to go to great lengths to insure that there can never be any question that they have the best interest of their students in the forefront of their minds at all times. I was famous for always grabbing another teacher and bringing that person into any private meeting with a student. And I always availed myself for that purpose to my fellow teachers. It was part of what was expected of me and I complied. But, should teachers be the only professionals given this responsibility? The answer is a resounding, "No!"
Doctors and dentists can be "persons in authority." We entrust our health and safety into their hands, allow them to perform surgical procedures while we are under sedation, etc. We have to trust that they take that responsibility as seriously as any teacher does. A police officer is "a person in authority." A correctional officer is "a person in authority." They can arrest you and then remove you from society. They have the responsibility to take charge of your well-being, even if you are guilty of breaking the law.
So where am I going with all of this? It is simple, really. While not everyone has the legal obligation that teachers, medical practitioners or law enforcement officers have, there are people in positions in our society who hold great power over those who work under them. That is why we continue to see so much litigation these days regarding high profile bosses or cable news celebrities who are taking advantage of their position. This news dominates the internet, cable television, radio airways, etc.
Jobs do not grow on trees. It goes without saying that staying gainfully employed impacts all of us and on those who depend upon us. If someone is in a position of authority over you and your job status suggests by their words or their actions that, if you want to keep getting a paycheck, you had better be prepared to do something that you ordinarily would not do, that is unacceptable abuse of power. If you do not think it is serious, Google "Fox News litigation" and see what kinds of things come up on the screen. More importantly, look at the settlements that are being paid out to people who come forward and prove to a jury that they were unfairly coerced into a situation.
Unfortunately, we have had this very type of behavior in our Elbert County government. We have a culture in Kiowa where our elected officials (including past and present BOCC members) turn deaf ears to those people who try to point out these behaviors. But for whatever reason, (perhaps because they think it will reflect badly on the county or reflect poorly on their own hiring practices) they do not take swift action to remediate the situation. When the employee who is making the accusation is ignored, he might feel there is no other choice but to seek the assistance of legal counsel. And if the attorney finds merit in the argument, then they will seek to rectify the situation…and that generally means a lawsuit.
I have checked the score card. The Elbert County government is abysmal at defending itself against these cases. Why? Because, for one, our local government is not properly vetting its employees. Secondly, bad behavior is often times swept under the rug.
It has become the norm in Elbert County government to hire from within its ranks. The person who gets the job is given the position for a myriad of worn out reasons. Here are a few: we went to school together; she has worked in the county for ten years and her mother worked here for twenty years before that; he was good over in road and bridge, so he can do a great job in another department.
The list of this faulty hiring rationale goes on and on, and it has to stop. There is way too much nepotism and cronyism in our local government. We need expertise and ethical behavior, not just familiar faces.
The “complicated” situation that we now face regarding our County Manager is just such a case. Does anyone really know if our County Manager is sick, on leave, was fired, or maybe just abducted by aliens? No. Even now, when we have an official statement weeks after the County Manager went absent, there are details emerging that center around inappropriate behavior by the manager, that two employees are receiving pay through at least the month of August, and that no one will be fired for breaking ethical boundaries. We should all be very concerned about this. Nobody who is a county official in a position to tell us what is happening has told the public the same story two times in a row.
There is a back story to this. Yes, I am angry that it appears we are on the precipice of yet another costly legal battle. No, I do not want my taxes spent on another legal boondoggle that could have been avoided had anyone been doing proper oversight. But you know what really ticks me off? According to a practicing lawyer who has reviewed the details that we have before us, it is a slam dunk that the county would lose the litigation it is facing with this situation. It is also pretty clear that we have had at least one other similar problem with our County Manager in the past and nobody stepped up to do the right thing. I see a person in charge of personnel matters and who had authority over an employee becoming romantically entangled with one of his employees.
This is not a rumor. I was approached by an affected family member and given information without solicitation. I do not in any way absolve either person involved for their behavior in this situation. They were both in the wrong. But as a former school teacher who accepted the regulations of my profession, it is my opinion our County Manager crossed a wide and very bright red line and it certainly appears that he is not accepting responsibility for his actions. He had been previously admonished for this type of behavior. The commissioners just pussyfooted around the issue when, it is said, they knew of the man's earlier indiscretions.
Above all of this, there is now a family in crisis. There are real people whose lives will never be the same. There are children who no longer have a stable family. There seems to be very few people in the courthouse who care about the real tragedy of this situation. They only seem interested in blaming others and/or protecting themselves from any criticism.
This has to stop.