Tuesday, June 27, 2017

This has to stop!

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.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Blame Jill

If the Elbert County BOCC did not have Jill Duvall, they would have to invent someone to take her place.  The former Chairperson of the Elbert County Democrats has become an essential ingredient for our highly partisan and ineffectual local government to get anything done.  Our latest triad of commissioners has decided to once again utilize the time-tested method of "rule-by-blame" in order to move an agenda set forth not by the citizens, but one crafted in back rooms by local party bosses.

It does not even have to make sense.  I recently overheard a couple of people lamenting the fact that there must be such a waste of taxpayers’ money by having to have so many uniformed sheriff's officers attend Elbert County public meetings.  Person One said, "Well you know, that is what it takes to keep those disruptive Democrats in line." 

Person Two responded, "And if they don't get their way, they sue the county!"

Person One, "I heard that there is one woman who sues the county every time she turns around."

Just for the record, Jill Duvall has never sued Elbert County.  Not one time. Zilcho, Amigo!  Oh sure, she has turned in a complaint or two for misconduct on the part of our elected officials. And yes, the complaints were found to have merit. As it turns out, when elected officials misbehave they can sometimes have a fine levied against them, but that is why we have laws.  Just like watching a burglary, we expect people to report things that are breaking established norms.  Should we ignore making a 911 report about someone breaking the law just because we do not wish to have people think that Elbert County has criminals?

Any money that Jill Duvall has cost the county in attorney fees has come as a result of our elected officials trying to get out of paying an assessed fine.  The fact of the matter is that  burden is entirely on the person trying to avoid a monetary punishment and has nothing to do with the person who turned in a legitimate complaint. Of course there is plenty of blame to go around because  there are the other elected officials who either sanction this waste of taxpayers’ money or they just do not care if they waste county resources.  Either way, those in charge in Kiowa are complicit.  And either way, they will blame anyone who stands in opposition to their folly.

Still, this ignorance is rife in the culture of our locally elected officials.  Recently, this same tired and inaccurate accusation has been passed along by another elected official and I am betting that most of you would never guess who this person is.   Let me give you a hint: There are few political offices in Elbert County that carry as much political clout as the one this person holds.  To be elected to this post means you are someone who has the pulse of everything that happens in Elbert County.  Give up?  If you guessed Keith Westfall, the Elbert County Surveyor,  you win an all expenses paid trip to Fondis for their annual Cherry Blossom Festival and Parade. Congratulations!

Jill Duvall wrote an editorial that was critical of County Manager Ed Ehmann.  You know the fellow I am talking about.  The guy who has gone missing in action just a little over a month after that article was published.  Ed Ehmann: the highest priced employee in the county who wrote his own contract with a fantastic parachute clause that is likely to cost the county a boatload of money because he is about to get sacked for personal misconduct.  The one who  has been meeting out of the county with developers and does not like taxpayers meddling in what he feels is his personal business.  Yes, that Ed Ehmann.  

On the Elbert County Republican Facebook page, Keith Westfall wrote:

"Maybe research should be done on the author of this article (Jill Duvall). I for one would like to know how much money this person has cost the taxpayers in lawsuits and attorney fees."

"Yup but the road always involves one very unhappy individual. No other county manager that I know of has to put up with the BS brought on by a select few people. If I was that unhappy living where I do, I would definitely make a change too. I would move to Boulder County. I for one get so tired of listening to her accusations and BS. I believe most people around have quit taking her seriously. That are just tired of their taxes having to pay for defending frivolous lawsuits."

"And if you don't like where you live... move."

This response was pure, unadulterated horse manure, devoid of facts and written in defense of someone who is about to really cost the taxpayers big money. This manager, who could do no wrong, may end up getting us into additional legal hot water in the form of law suits due to his unfortunate and  inappropriate handling of personnel matters.  Keith Westfall was extolling the virtues of Ehmann, making him out to be a pillar of outstanding public service.  Keith did this because he was defending the status quo, not because it was based on his actual performance.  But you know what?  It will not make any difference whatsoever, because this courthouse culture club that we have developed in Elbert County government demands a scapegoat. Our local leadership needs someone to blame.  Even when Jill is correct, it is much more satisfying to pretend that the Elbert County culture of government is above making a mistake.  Just find somebody to blame and let 'er rip.

This is the way it always goes out here.  If anyone wants to get some project moving  in Elbert County but they find themselves short of cash from their own mismanagement, all they have to do is find someone to blame.  Even if they find they have budgetary shortfalls because of their predecessors who made poor decisions, and made questionable loans from predatory lenders...no problem. Do what they did.  Just campaign on the fiscal responsibility of your party and denounce every Democrat as a “tax and spend liberal.” Once you are elected, and trust me, you will be elected; just go and find another fly-by-night lender and carry on your merry way.  They line up on the courthouse steps.  It does not matter a whit that a Democrat has not held a BOCC position for over twenty years.  Just remember the prime directive: Do not take the blame!  

Or let's say you want to use the money that was earmarked from your 1% sales tax for road improvements for purposes other than what the public was told. Sure it is a pile of money, but not big enough to actually do much road work. So what's an elected official to do? Well, how about withholding that money to secure more loans for things that our local culture club wants to get accomplished instead of what the taxpayers said they wanted. All you have to do is find a nifty little loophole in the way the tax measure was written and then find someone to blame.  How about that complainer, Jill Duvall, and her pack of whiny liberals.  Just tell the public that because of their constant lawsuits and official complaints, Elbert County Government is officially  hamstrung.  It's her fault!   Really?  Yeah,  we are going to really miss Ed.  And I am sure we will find a replacement just like him. 

They will assure us it won't be someone like Jill Duvall.  They would be certain to remind us that this harpy monster of a woman  would just spend money like it was printed in the basement of the courthouse.  Mr. Westfall even went so far as to say she should move to Boulder! Uh, is that supposed to be some terrible slam against her?  I did a little checking.  Boulder County has one large campus town.  Other than that it is much the same as it is here in Elbert County.  It's foundational roots are in agriculture.  There are several differences though.  They do have paved roads.  They have a thriving economy. And that's when I discovered that they are being run by a bunch of, what's the popular term out here, snowflakes!  I also noticed that all three of their commissioners are women with impeccable educational credentials.  Of course none of them have the particular set of skills Ed Ehmann does, but Boulder County seems to be doing better than Elbert County.  Imagine that, people who are born with two  "X" chromosomes leading the way in a county renowned for it's tech industry, light manufacturing, education and yes, even agriculture.

This is no longer acceptable behavior.  Our county government is being hamstrung by lawsuit after lawsuit, but not by a cabal of leftwing activists that you hear about on the Elbert County Republican Facebook page.  It occurs because we do not have elected officials who want to follow the rules.  For example, they are bound and determined to allow the Independence development to go forward on expired filings.  They are doing this in spite of the fact that residents who live in that area of every political stripe feel they have no other choice but to sue the county to stop this development without current applications, impact studies and Costs of Community Services (COCS) analysis.  Our government officials will do this stuff with an in-house lawyer whose track record is abysmal.  Do not go looking for the real reasons that this might be a bad idea.  Look no further than the blame game that operates daily out of the courthouse in Kiowa.

Here’s some logical, reasonable advice for our local elected leadership: 

1 - Stop hiring people who you think can do the job without any prerequisite knowledge of the C.R.S. or the field of study associated with the position.  Hiring competent, trained people is what they do in successful communities.  Start doing that.  If you do not believe me, look no further than what is going on in the assessors office.  We are flying by the seat of our pants and people are pissed off.  Check the qualifications of our (hopefully) soon to be fired County Manager. 
2 - Open up the records on all of the lawsuits we have lost in the past ten to fifteen years to see just what we are keeping from the public.  It would make your head spin. 
3 - And then when all of that is said and done, pull your head out of your back pocket and stop blaming people who are only asking you to follow the rules.  Stop lying about what they are costing the county. 

It is this culture club in Kiowa that is to blame for our troubles, not Jill Duvall.