Grand County manager responds to criticism
November 18, 2014
Editor's note: A recently published report from a grand jury investigating the theft of more than $500,000 dollars from the Grand County Building Department found no additional criminal culpability for the theft, though the report was heavily critical of multiple county officials. To view an article detailing the report, click here. Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran sat down with the Sky-Hi News to address recent criticism stemming from the report, among other things.
Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran has responded to criticism of her job performance after a grand jury report questioned the efficacy of her position in county government.
One of the more pertinent criticisms of the report was its assertion that the county manager seemed to be "without any actual duties of oversight or power to manage most of the departments within the county."
"Do I direct the appointed officials? Yes, I do," Curran said of assertions that she has no oversight of elected officials. "But do I go down every day and check, 'Are you doing this? Are you doing that?' No, I don't. They're professionals with the expertise in the area they're hired, and I expect them to manage their jobs. Do I check on them? Yes. Do I micromanage them? No. I wanted to just set the record straight that I work very hard for the county. I've always worked very hard for the county. I do not mismanage my position and I thought it was necessary to at least speak up on that decision."
Curran did not immediately respond to the Sky-Hi News following the report's release because, she said, she was unsure about what she could comment on regarding the grand jury.
Those who testify before a grand jury are sworn to secrecy.
"I believe that my position requires a certain level of professional decorum," Curran said. "I felt like the grand jury did what they thought was necessary, and in order for me to respond, I didn't know how to quite respond and not go against the [pledge of secrecy]."
During the interview, Curran echoed sentiments expressed by County Treasurer Christina Whitmer and County Commissioner James Newberry that the grand jury's assessments were based on misinterpretations of county management structure, though she added that the grand jury had done its job well.
"It's almost like getting a job and having to do it for awhile before you understand how the system works," Curran said. "We're an organization with 20 or more different businesses that do different things, so it is hard to understand that structure if you're coming form the private sector."
Curran cited a number of achievements outside of her daily managerial duties that she said are often overlooked by her critics.
They include bringing sewer service to Tabernash and securing county asset value from water negotiations, which Curran said will exceed $100 million.
"I don't just walk up and down the halls doing nothing," Curran said. "I'm pretty busy a lot of the time, and I know, at least I've been told, that people don't seem to be interested in all of the positive things the county has done, but those things are what I have worked on, so that's part of what I do."
Curran said that, in part because of her leadership, the county is debt-free, which has in turn preserved jobs at the county.
"I know there may be some hard feelings in the community about that, but if you have 240 people that are getting a regular paycheck those people are spending money in this county, and that helps our economy even when it's in the toilet," Curran said.
Curran also cited her work on the landslide at Granby Landfill, as she found a less expensive option than the proposed $14.7 million cylinder pile wall.
Additionally, Curran secured a $1 million grant for the county's new judicial building, established the county's first human resources department and continues to work on matters including the Windy Gap Project Bypass Agreement, clarity in Grand Lake and preserving agricultural uses in the Williams Fork River Valley.
Curran also addressed accusations that she is overpaid, stating that she is in the 25th percentile of the county's salary survey.
Curran's gross earnings in 2013 were $103,790.40, according to information obtained by the Sky-Hi News in July. Benefits totaled $41,230.31, according to the county's information.
"Little old Grand County is on the cutting edge of so many things, and that makes me proud to work here, proud to live here, proud to raise my kids here and have my grandkids raised here," Curran said. "What a great place to live, and I think the people here are great. Do we disagree on things? Yeah, but that's what makes us what we are. We always seem to get by it somehow and move onto better things."
Denver Water deals
Curran also responded to criticism of the county's deal with Denver Water regarding the Moffat-Gross Expansion Project, which some say will lead to the death of the Fraser River.
"The history of us working with any transbasin diversion was money, guns and lawyers," Curran said. "Lawyer up and see what the courts say and accept the consequences of that action."
Curran said that dynamic changed when Western Slope water interests banded together and, simultaneously, the Denver Water Board changed its tack, opting for more cooperation with Western Slope water interests in any new diversions.
"It was a dynamic that we'd never had before," Curran said. "Was it was wrong to take advantage of that dynamic and try to do something better? We'd moneyed, gunned and lawyered before. What had we gotten out of that?"
Curran said that, because the county didn't own a water right, working with Denver Water was the best option.
"I guess all I can say is wait and see what this does over the next 20 or 25 years as there's more population that demands more water than needs more resources," Curran said. "We're sitting here, [Denver Water] can't come back for us for any more water, [Northern Water] can't come back to us for any more water."
Curran said water negotiations have taken up a huge portion of her time, even after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008.
"I had four surgeries, four weeks in a row," Curran said. "I missed Friday and was back to work on Monday every time. I had 20 weeks of chemo. I never missed a board of commissioners meeting nor did I ever miss a water negotiation. It wasn't easy, but I felt that it was important and it was my job."
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.