Weld County commissioners keep Sean Conway from leadership role | MyWindsorNow.com

Weld County commissioners keep Sean Conway from leadership role

Sharon Dunn
sdunn@greeleytribune.com

The Weld County commissioners on Wednesday were true to their words, keeping Commissioner Sean Conway from a leadership position through 2017 even as he threatens to sue them.

The commissioners elected Commissioner Julie Cozad as chairwoman for 2017 and Commissioner Steve Moreno as chairman pro-tem. Conway, who was pro-tem this year and expected to be named chairman himself, voted against both appointments and commissioner oversight of four county departments, which also excluded him.

On Tuesday, Conway filed a notice of claim, in which he stated he would sue his fellow commissioners for retaliation and defamation. They had told him on Nov. 30 they would not elect him as chairman — contrary to the longstanding practice of electing the pro-tem as chairman the following year — and they would not allow him to coordinate any county departments. Since July, Conway and the four other commissioners have gone back and forth accusing each other of wrongdoing in a tangled web of complaints about violation of the public trust and transparency.

"I truly believe that what we did was the proper and right thing to do based on the circumstances, and I can look myself in the mirror at night and feel very comfortable with the decisions we made," outgoing chairman Mike Freeman said of the morning's votes.

“I truly believe that what we did was the proper and right thing to do based on the circumstances, and I can look myself in the mirror at night and feel very comfortable with the decisions we made.”Mike Freeman Outgoing chairman

Conway seemed prepared for that eventuality Wednesday, bringing a big smile and a written statement of protest to the meeting.

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"I had hoped after a month of reflection, cooler heads would prevail among my fellow commissioners, but unfortunately, that has not occurred," Conway read aloud to the commissioners and an audience of about 25. "The actions today are retaliation against me for attempting to secure the public's right to know about budget issues and my public release of the attempt to schedule meetings with companies that will be having business before Weld County."

Conway said that was in retaliation for blowing the whistle on the commissioners scheduling an illegal meeting with Xcel Energy in September 2016. He and the other commissioners attended that meeting, and all have agreed there was nothing illegal about it. Conway, however, said it would have been illegal had he not intervened and voiced concerns to the county attorney; he released emails of privileged attorney-client advice to prove his points, a breach that upset his fellow commissioners. He said retaliation also was for his vocal concerns about overspending and getting corporate sponsorship from businesses for a county emergency training exercise in Breckenridge last summer.

Commissioners have said Conway's concerns about issues only came about when his niece, Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes, was prohibited from holding a Republican executive committee meeting at her office, when she was excluded from that emergency training, and after there was a public call for an official audit of her office.

Just before that Nov. 30 meeting when they told Conway they had lost trust in him, a county employee resigned after filing a harassment complaint against Conway. She said Conway screamed at her and used profanity for scheduling a meeting he couldn't attend. The investigation into the matter is ongoing. Freeman said with that complaint pending, he couldn't in good conscience put him in charge of county employees.

Conway then filed a notice that he would sue his fellow commissioners, the tension from which had not yet settled on Wednesday.

Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer pondered the question of finding peace within the ranks with such a lawsuit pending.

"I have no idea how that's going to occur when one county commissioner decides to send a notice of claim, essentially a pending lawsuit, to try and bully, threaten and intimidate us into appointing him to something that we just don't have any trust for him to be in."

Two residents who came in support of Conway called the morning's actions disturbing.

"The public statements intended to discredit and shame Mr. Conway are not of the professional standard that citizens expect, and they reflect poorly on the commissioners and the county," Hudson resident Karen Grillos told the board. "They seem … hostile, emotional and without clear, legitimate, or professional objectives."

David Kisker of Johnstown said that Conway was no angel, but there seemed to be other instances on the board of violating the public trust. He described commissioners getting corporate sponsorship for that summer emergency training as "money laundering," and he chided others on the board for taking 25 percent of their re-election funding from oil and gas interests when the board was considering new rules regulating oil and gas procedures in the county.

Conway told the audience that the commissioners were violating the county charter by not appointing him oversight over a county department.

County Attorney Bruce Barker said there was clearly no charter violation. The charter states a commissioner shall coordinate a department with the assistance of another, he said.

"You as a board can choose which one of you will coordinate which department," Barker said. "It doesn't say each commissioner gets to coordinate a department. It doesn't say that anywhere in the home rule charter."

While Kisker and Grillos worried that the commissioners were taking away Conway's voice on the board, members said they only kept him out of a leadership role.

"Commissioner Conway still has a vote on every single matter that comes before this board," Freeman said. "The only thing we decided was to not have him in a leadership role this year."

The first meeting of the year, however, is meant to be more of a reflective one. The newly appointed chairwoman, Cozad, said there was a lot of good work to continue at the county. She cited as priorities the need to continue to work on the expansion of Weld County Road 49, sustaining the Bright Futures program that gives scholarships to Weld's college-bound students, and expanding the Weld County Jail.

"I will continue to represent Weld County in a positive and productive way," she said. "Hopefully, as a board, we can find ways to work together in 2017."

When it came to the question of brokering peace among a fractured body, she hesitated.

"I can't control what other people do and say," Cozad said. "I am only responsible for myself, to my constituents and my district, and I think it's important now as the chair that I try to lead the group to do the business of the county. That's the most important thing. As a county things are going very well."

Commissioner assignments

» Chairwoman — Julie Cozad

» Chariman pro-tem — Steve Moreno

» Coordinator of Finance and Administration departments — Cozad, assisted by Moreno

» Coordinator of Public Works — Mike Freeman, assisted by Moreno

» Coordinator of Planning and Human Services — Barbara Kirkmeyer, assisted by Freeman and Cozad

» Coordinator of Health Department — Moreno, assisted by Kirkmeyer

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