SAGUACHE — While many concerned Saguache residents expect three town board trustees to be reinstated at the upcoming town board meeting Tuesday, Sept. 12, state statutes governing ethics issues may prevent their hoped-for reappointment.
Four trustees resigned July 21 following a disagreement with Town Administrator Pamela Fye over the "firing" of the Deputy Clerk, Linda Ahrens. The trustees had spoken with Ahrens, openly championing and supporting her, and some legal advisors believe this makes it impossible for them to be reappointed.
Three of the trustees submitted applications for reappointment to the board last month. Decisions on the appointments will be made at the Sept. 12 meeting.
Mayor Greg Terrell and those advising the board on legal matters, also attorneys for the town’s insurers — the CIRSA municipal insurance pool — have reportedly warned that by readmitting the three trustees to the board, the town would violate statutes regarding matters in which the board members have a personal interest. One of these reads:
“Acts Benefitting One’s Business or Client. [C.R.S. 24-18-109-(2)(b)]
A local government official or employee shall not: Perform an official act directly and substantially affecting to its economic benefit a business or other undertaking in which he either has a substantial financial interest or is engaged as counsel, consultant, representative or agent.
“Official act” is defined as including any “vote, decision, recommendation, approval, disapproval, or other action, including in action, which involves the use of discretionary authority.” [C.R.S. 24-18-102(7)]
[C.R.S. 31-4-404(2) and (3)]
Rule: “Disclosure and Abstention”, a member of the governing body of a city or town who has a personal or private interest in any matter proposed or pending before the governing body shall:
Disclose such interest to governing body,
Not vote and
Not attempt to influence the votes of other members of the governing body. [C.R.S. 31-4-404-(2)]
Some believe that the four trustees have acted as agents or representatives of Ahrens, possibly violating this statute. Elected officials are required to avoid even the appearance of any conflict of interest.
Makings of a conflict
It is also a state statute that trustees cannot interfere with town administration regarding personnel matters. This occurred, legal advisors claim, when the trustees approached Fye regarding Ahrens’s resignation.
Ahrens’s attorney has since requested a settlement from the town regarding the conditions during her employment, which, she reportedly told trustees, made her feel pressured to resign. Town officials say they cannot rule out the possibility that Fye will file suit as well. Because all three board members would be required to be privy to decisions regarding Ahrens’s settlement and any possible suit by Fye, the reappointments would directly involve potential conflicts of interest, at least.
Legally the fact that the four originally departing board members all championed Ahrens and did not remain neutral placed them in the crosshairs for such conflicts. One of the former board members confirmed that the four trustees resigned before receiving the results of the investigation conducted by Fye, so were not aware of any findings in the matter.
Another former board member said she believes that Fye pitted employees against each other but the mayor was reluctant to fire her because she had deadlines to meet regarding the water/sewer project. “Greg was misled by Pam,” she said. “He wouldn’t listen to complaints about Pam.”
Yet another trustee who resigned said she hopes new Interim Administrator Brandy Reitter requests audits for both 2016 and the first half of 2017. She added that Reitter is very well qualified and appears to be a very nice person.
Last week Mayor Terrell confirmed during a phone conversation that the water and sewer project deadlines have been extended and the project will go forward. However, work on the project will be delayed till March. He said he does not intend to resign, but to move forward on these projects.
He also clarified that it was the town auditor, Peter Blair — a forensic auditor himself — who initially said the town did not need a forensic audit.
Terrell explained that he had looked into a sewer project plan proposed by Saguache resident Mike Wheeler at length but the plan was not economically feasible for the town because it would require everyone to install new septic systems.
The town also has advertised for a new clerk and deputy clerk, he commented, and the new interim administrator will help train them.