Weld County Council members continue publicly debating issues with Weld County commissioners
November 21, 2016
The Weld County Council managed to break out in bickering multiple times — yet again — during its monthly meeting Monday night.
Members listened to a presentation from Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes, read incoming resident letters and discussed parameters for performance audits of the offices of Koppes and the Weld County commissioners.
The council has been struggling for months to get through a meeting without calling one another names and interrupting one another. The vitriol continued Monday night during a council vote on commissioners' salaries, which they had vetted at their meeting last month.
The group managed to finalize the salaries for 2019-20 at $105,000. But the conversation quickly turned to regulating the commissioners' mileage reimbursements, which councilman Jordan Jemiola has publicly criticized. Jemiola said he believes the commissioners shouldn't get paid to drive to work, and he asked Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker if the council could change the rules that allow the practice.
Although Barker explained at the time why the council couldn't do that, Jemiola raised the issue again with Frank Haug, an assistant county attorney filling in for Barker during Monday's meeting. He got a similar answer.
Haug wasn't off the hook after the commissioner salary talks, however. The conversation then turned to "questionable" meetings commissioners had held with Xcel Energy officials in recent months about the company's plans in Weld County.
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The council read a letter from Ellen de Lorenzo, a Johnstown resident who requested the council find some way to punish the commissioners for those meetings. Commissioners — or any officials who decide land use hearings — aren't allowed to talk about current land use cases with companies outside of public meetings. A number of residents and officials lamented the meetings with Xcel because they will have projects in front of the commissioners within the next year or two.
"Complacency implies consent," she wrote in her letter.
She wanted them to find a way to suspend the commissioners — all of whom attended the meeting — without pay.
Barker advised against the meetings with Xcel in emails to the commissioners. He later said he was under the impression there was a current case in the works, which made him more leery.
Jemiola couldn't interview Barker during Monday's meeting, so he settled on Haug.
"I want to know why the county attorney advised against it," Jemiola said. "If it was hunky dory, typically a county attorney wouldn't advise a client against (holding the meetings)."
Haug said he wasn't familiar with the details and couldn't make an informed statement on the situation and that Jemiola's questions were broad and more philosophical. Jemiola responded that those are the kinds of questions attorneys can usually answer.
Councilman Don Mueller raised the issue Barker had told the commissioners the emails about the Xcel meetings were protected by attorney-client privilege and that commissioner Sean Conway's release of the documents was ethically questionable.
Jemiola defended the commissioner, calling him a whistleblower. Councilman Charles Tucker referenced an employee who brought the clerk and recorder's office issues to the county council and said Jemiola had made negative comments about her and didn't see her as a whistleblower.
"Prove it," Jemiola said before the two argued back and forth.
Councilman Brett Abernathy said any complaints about the commissioners would be handled in their performance audit, which could be conducted in January.
Residents also wrote in about commissioners' use of taxpayer dollars to pay for a conference near Jackson Hole, Wyo. Another Johnstown resident, Dave Kisker, made Colorado Open Records requests about the trip and the expenses commissioners filed for it. Commissioners didn't stay in the hotel hosting the conference, but instead stayed in a more expensive hotel almost 40 miles away, according to county expense reports. Using the same reports and some restaurant receipts in them, he said the commissioners missed many of the panel discussions at the conference. He concluded commissioners used taxpayer money to go on vacation. The council discussed the trip in earlier meetings, but didn't discuss it in-depth Monday.
At the end of the two-hour meeting, the council voted to pay bills — only a few hundred dollars. Most of it went to a new office chair and office supplies.