Citizen group’s Grand County hearing the culmination of months of campaigning
In what seemed to be the culmination of its months-long campaign to challenge Grand County leadership following a scandal in the county building department, the group Citizens for Transparency in Grand County Government asked Commissioner Merrit Linke to terminate County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran during a public hearing on Tuesday afternoon, May 12.
Linke dismissed the request.
“I’m not going to base a decision on any vocal citizens group however loud they are, however vocal they are,” Linke said. “That’s not how government works.”
The hearing was in the same vein as previous meetings between the group and the board of county commissioners, with exchanges between the two at times reverting to shouting matches and both parties showing expressions of incredulity and contempt.
Chairman Linke repeatedly resorted to using his gavel to restore order, a rare occurrence in commissioners’ hearings.
More than 60 people filled the commissioners’ room for the meeting.
The group’s spokesmen, John Dickinson and Chas McConnell, used the beginning of the meeting to air grievances with the county government, presenting documents, including many obtained through Colorado Open Records Act requests, to support their assertion of mismanagement within county government.
Linke said the documents contained “a lot of opinion.”
Among the documents was a grand jury report that stemmed from an investigation into the loss of more than $500,000 from the Grand County Building Department.
The report was heavily critical of county officials including the county manager, calling Curran “a county manager without any actual duties of oversight or power to manage most of the departments within the county.”
It also identified “significant negligence, mismanagement and lack of leadership with Grand County government.”
Curran responded to the grand jury report, stating that she was told not to comment on the proceedings “under penalty of law.”
“You have no idea what I was asked and what I was asked to testify to,” Curran said.
She also criticized assertions that she had cut a bad deal on the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, stating that the deals would benefit Grand County down the line
“I do not think it’s appropriate for anyone to call for my resignation,” Curran said. “You certainly have the right to do that, but you are basing it on false information.”
Curran’s speech elicited applause from many in the audience.
Dickinson and McConnell also criticized Curran’s handling of water negotiations, specifically with the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.
Referring to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental analysis on the project, Dickinson said the deal downplays environmental impacts and does not hold the water diverters accountable.
Commissioner James Newberry denied that Curran was solely responsible for the county’s negotiations, adding that many water lawyers and other negotiators represented the county as well.
“The whole premise that the county manager decided this whole thing is completely wrong,” Newberry said.
Newberry lauded Curran’s negotiating efforts, calling the county’s water deals “the premier, the most innovative.”
A number of other topics were covered during the discussion, including mileage reimbursements filed by Newberry and obtained through CORA requests.
Newberry was charged with official misconduct in relation to allegations that he double-charged for mileage.
On Tuesday, the group provided an expense statement that seemed to show Newberry has billed the county to drive to and from work.
An investigation into similar actions by Weld County commissioners found no legal issue with charging mileage to commute to work. However, Weld County is a home rule county governed by a charter in addition to state laws.
Dickinson also raised issue with what he described as an unspoken policy to arbitrarily hire some candidates over others.
During one particularly tense moment, Commissioner Kris Manguso said that she had been told by the county’s human resources department who to hire among three candidates for a planner position.
When asked whether the candidate was the most qualified, Manguso said she couldn’t recall, though County Attorney Anthony “Jack” DiCola said discussing the matter “wasn’t appropriate.”
Curran was seen shaking her head in apparent disagreement as Manguso recounted the event.
Dickinson also questioned the county’s policies for reporting expenses.
Specifically, Dickinson mentioned instances where both Newberry and Curran had submitted non-itemized receipts for meals.
Linke said the problem had been addressed.
The board passed a new policy for reporting expenses earlier on Tuesday that included stringent requirements for submitting payment vouchers.
“Thanks to you guys and some other people for bringing this forth,” Linke said. “It was a little too loose in my opinion.”
He added that he “didn’t think firing people is the answer.”
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The Colorado Department of Transportation has closed Colorado Highway 125 in Grand County while crews work to clear the route of mud, debris and snagged trees piled up on various bridges and guardrails.