Termination of couple at county building department parallels investigation
March 25, 2014
HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — County commissioners noted earlier this month that the building department scandal led to one desk, but at least two employees have been terminated since the investigation began.
County officials discovered missing funds, ultimately amounting to $500,000 over 12 years, during their budget planning process in October 2013. On Nov. 1, the building department administrative assistant, Brigid Irish, was immediately terminated. Her husband Rick Irish, an inspector in the department, was asked to leave with her.
According to county personnel records the Sky-Hi News recently obtained, County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran first called Brigid into her office at around 8:30 a.m., handing her a termination form effective immediately. According to the form, her reasons for termination were "violation of county or department rule or regulation," "insubordination," "misrepresentation on an application form or other official records or to the public," "falsification of work records or time cards," and "any other acts detrimental to the good of the service by the County."
The county manager and a human resources specialist followed Brigid to her office in the building department, where she gathered her things and turned in her keys. The county manager then informed Brigid's husband, Rick, that he was being put on "leave of absence with pay." According to county records, the county manager told Rick that "Brigid could explain the reasons why she was terminated and that until further investigation … she could not have him in the building department."
On Jan. 6, 2014, the county informed Rick his status was changed to "leave without pay." On Jan. 27, building department director Scott Penson and county officials formally terminated Rick, listing "can no longer be trusted in job" as the reason.
That same day, Rick returned to the building department to collect his personal items. He met with Penson and a human resources representative. According to a Human Resources memo filed after the meeting, "Rick said that he did not do anything wrong but that he feels like he is being persecuted for it anyway. He indicated that he did not know anything about what was going on (with his wife). In addition, he said, he wondered if he was being terminated because he was a spouse."
Penson went on to say he did not feel he could trust Rick in his position.
Rick Irish had worked at the building department as a combination inspector since June 1999, and would occasionally help in other county departments as well. His wife, Brigid, came to the department as an administrative assistant in September 2001. Both employees consistently received "above average" scores in their annual evaluations by the department head, as well as received glowing feedback from customers.
According to county information, $246,000 went missing in 2013 alone. Of that amount, $153,000 has been recovered from repeated invoicing, although Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson previously told the Sky-Hi that amount can't be subtracted from the $500,000 identified as missing over the course of 12 years. No suspects have been named and no one has been arrested in connection to the scandal so far.
The Sky-Hi attempted to contact the Irishes for comment, but calls were not immediately returned.
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.