Meet the candidates event bares Grand County’s bruised image
A “Meet the Candidate” event in Kremmling further revealed the fractured relations among Grand County’s top-level officials.
Still feeling the sting of accusation from a Monday, June 2, county commissioners special meeting, during which commissioners deflected criticism for the building department theft and debacle, Grand County Treasurer Christina Whitmer seized the chance to further defend herself.
“There’s no way to describe after 25 years of devoting everything possible to save money, to build a system that works well for the people, and give the kind of service that we give, and to be slammed as I was, I can’t even explain what the motivation is. My staff suffers… they feel the same as I do,” Whitmer said.
“We’re there to service the people, and it is my belief, mostly because of my Christianity that guides me, that you do the right thing… That’s what we’ve tried to do at least with my tenure with the county. And everything that has happened, and everything you’ve been reading about, I’m sorry you even had to see something like that.”
Whitmer delivered these words to about 40 people at the Kremmling Rotary-sponsored event held in the Bumgarner building. Although the event mostly focused on the sheriff’s race between incumbent Rod Johnson and challenger Brett Schroetlin, Whitmer spoke when county elected officials were asked whether they thought there was a “good ‘ole boys” network at the county, or worse yet, conspiracy boiling. Longtime County Commissioner James Newberry himself, who sat in the audience, had posed that very question well into the two-hour long forum.
Much later in the meeting, when elected officials were asked what challenges they face, Whitmer said her job isn’t as much of a challenge “as much as the last few weeks. So I guess, I would say my biggest challenge is getting back that respect and communication that is now lost with the county commissioners.”
“As a commissioner I apologize,” said Grand County Commissioner Gary Bumgarner, who said he was speaking as “one commissioner.”
“Hindsight is 20/20,” he said. Commissioners, he said, should have simply answered a list of citizens’ questions directed to commissioners and not attacked Whitmer with a second list of questions that in effect, seemed to blame her for negligence on the job. “We were trying to get to the bottom of (the building department scandal). As James said, we’ve had meetings and we try to express to the public what is going on. It was not intended in my heart, it was not intended to be an attack. Reading those replies, I agree with you 100 percent it was a personal attack on the treasurer. I apologize for that. That was not what was intended.”
‘Embarrassed’ and ‘ashamed’
Other elected officials chimed in.
“I’m embarrassed and I’m saddened by what I’ve seen happen in the county,” said District 3 commissioner candidate Kris Manguso, who is running unopposed on a platform of a “positive, proactive approach” to governing the county. “I think I have a fundamental disagreement with elected officials attacking other elected officials publicly for any reason whatsoever. To me, it’s wrong. I don’t think that was the right way or the right thing,” she said.
“I have to say, as an elected official, someone who works for the public and represents the citizens, I’m ashamed,” said County Clerk and Recorder Sara Rosene. “I’m ashamed of where we are today, and it doesn’t feel very good, and it can’t be good for our employees, so I think we need to find a way to get beyond it, whether it was the stuff that happened in the building department that started it, or it was something else, I don’t know, … but I do think we need to ask who really are we working for because right now, it doesn’t feel like we’re in a place we need to be.”
And from Johnson, it was a mix between a scolding and a pep talk.
“I’m actually a bit ashamed of maybe some of infighting that’s going on in our government right now. I think our responsibility may have sunk a little bit.
We need to grab ourselves by the boot straps and get back to work, get back together and decide that we’re here for the people, not ourselves, we’re here for the public,” he said. “I don’t know if we should go into the corner and slap each other around a little bit and come out and feel better, I don’t know, But I just don’t think at our level, especially those of us that have been here for as long as we have, should be fighting like that at this level.
And with that, he responded to Newberry’s question: “I have been through some detailed observation of the county building investigation, and there’s no conspiracy there,” he said.
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Approaching a year after the East Troublesome Fire destroyed 366 homes, including 132 belonging to fulltime Grand County residents, there are still a few families that haven’t been able to find stable housing.