COUNTY BEAT: Changes at DHS questioned by former staff

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RBC I In a special meeting last Thursday, July 22, the Rio Blanco County Board of Commissioners discussed providing a letter of support for work performed by dual-county Department of Human Services Director Tia Murry. Murry, hired in January 2021, splits her time 60/40 between Moffat and Rio Blanco counties. 

Commissioner Ty Gates said while he understands the challenges involved in fulfilling a dual-county role, he had an issue providing a letter of support for an individual employee and not for the entire department. 

Commissioner Jeff Rector said hiring Murry was an effort to help solve some of the problems faced by DHS over the years.

“The reason we did this collaborative effort with Moffat County and Rio Blanco County was to hire Tia to kind of help some of that stuff out, and if we don’t do this letter right now, we’re giving staff that ability to tell that director or the board of county commissioners what they want done,” Rector said.

Gates voted against approving the letter, Rector and Commissioner Gary Moyer voted in favor.

The meeting was interrupted several times by an individual who called in to listen but failed to mute his phone. 

Also on the agenda was an intergovernmental agreement between Moffat and Rio Blanco counties. Gates moved to table the agreement because the agreement had not been received. According to County Attorney Don Steerman, Moffat County had not had an opportunity to review the memorandum. 

After adjourning the meeting, former RBC DHS Director Barb Bofinger and former DHS caseworker Michelle Reese, who both recently resigned, asked for an opportunity to comment on the letter of support, saying there was no opening for public comment. 

On advice from Steerman, the board reopened the meeting to allow Bofinger time to comment. She said she agreed with Gates that the letter should be a letter to the community about the county’s support of the department, not just the director. Bofinger went on to add that the decision to hire Murry was made in October 2020, something she learned from a conversation she overheard in the parking lot at the county building in Rangely between former County Attorney Todd Starr, Rector, and former commissioner Si Woodruff. When she asked about her job security, Rector told her he and former Moffat County Commissioner Don Cook had decided together to pursue the dual-director position for the benefit of both counties. Bofinger said she still has unanswered questions about whether the move is the best way to utilize taxpayer dollars, what support measures were implemented for DHS in the last two years and particularly in the last 10 months, and whether the board had spoken with any DHS staff members about the needs of the department. 

Rector questioned why Bofinger wanted to “bring all this to light” now that she has resigned, to which she asked the commissioners to review a letter she sent to the board in January. 

Moyer said the board had the correspondence, but that the special meeting was not an appropriate time for debate, and adjourned the meeting a second time. 

As of Monday, a second approval of the intergovernmental agreement between Moffat and Rio Blanco counties had been removed from the regular meeting agenda.