Recall update: County to release recordings, hire firm for investigation

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RBC | In response to legal counsel from Rio Blanco County contract attorney Todd Starr, RBC commissioners and staff convened a special meeting on June 23 to discuss the handling and/or release of particular executive sessions and hostile work environment claims, and authorization to act on either matter as directed. Commissioner Ty Gates attended the meeting in person along with the county legal assistant Vicky Edwards and other staff. Commissioner Jeff Rector, contract attorney Todd Starr and county attorney Don Steerman attended the meeting by phone. Commissioner Gary Moyer was excluded from both the meeting and communications about it, due to what Starr described as a “direct conflict of interest.” Other meeting attendees included both proponents and opponents of the recall effort against Moyer.

MOTIONS

By the end of the meeting commissioners Ty Gates and Jeff Rector approved two motions, the first of which was to authorize the release of all prior executive session recordings involving Dave Morlan and RBC road and bridge employee Roy Gilbert by declaring them as “open sessions.” The same motion also authorized the release of Morlan’s personnel file, pending a waiver from Morlan.

The second motion authorized contract attorney Todd Starr “to procure an independent firm to investigate claims of a hostile work environment,” though Starr noted he would let the board know an estimated cost before moving forward with any investigation.

EXECUTIVE SESSIONS

The majority of Wednesday’s special meeting involved discussion about executive sessions, and claims by former RBC employees of a “hostile work environment.” On executive sessions, Starr spoke about the increase in sessions over the last two and half years. RBC commissioners have convened a total of 35 executive sessions from the beginning of 2019 through the present, with 18 of those occurring in 2020. From 2017-18 RBC commissioners held one executive session total.

Starr said he agreed “there were a large number of executive sessions,” but asserted that the increase was justified, and noted that the number of meetings “doesn’t matter” as long as they were convened properly and discussion in meetings was limited to the reason the meeting was called, as allowed by state statute. On the subject of executive sessions specifically involving Dave Morlan, Starr advised that any meetings also recorded by Morlan should be declared by the BOCC as having been not convened in strict compliance with state statutes, and thus subject to open meeting laws.

THIRD PARTY INVESTIGATION

Starr advised that multiple, public claims of a “hostile work environment” from former county employees could open the county to liability if not properly investigated, hence his recommendation to hire an independent firm. He said such an investigation would be costly, potentially upwards of $10,000. Normally an expenditure of that size would require a request for proposal (RFP) but Starr advised an RFP could be bypassed and the process expedited if he procures the firm through his law firm. An expenditure of $10,000, if approved by the BOCC, would represent about 1% of the county’s average monthly expenditures.


By LUCAS TURNER | lucas@ht1885.com