EDITORIAL: A Good Reason to Celebrate ‘Sunshine Week’ … Part Two

Read Part One

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, January 5, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) voted to defend Archuleta County Clerk and Recorder June Madrid in the complaint filed against her by a local resident.

The BoCC also voted to authorize the legal firm Rose, Walker, Starr LLP to represent Madrid in her defense.

Specifically, Attorney Todd Starr will be Madrid’s legal representative.

The decisions were made following an executive session…

— January 7, 2016 Pagosa Springs SUN article by Marshall Dunham

The Town Council isn’t the only local government entity currently dealing with alleged violations of Colorado law and local codes and policies.

Back in September — about the same time I began raising my protest about the Town Council decision to meet behind closed doors with a private developer — the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners were engaged in some odd (and possibly illegal) behavior.

According to an interview yesterday with local activist Greg Giehl, it’s quite a legal legal mess that the BOCC — Michael Whiting, Clifford Lucero and Steve Wadley — and their attorney, Todd Starr, have got themselves into over the past few months. Mr. Giehl filed a lawsuit challenging a decision to accept Todd Starr’s resignation as a county employee and to hire him, at a much higher hourly rate, as a contract employee. The BOCC and their attorney are also reportedly under investigation by Colorado;s Independent Ethics Commission, and by the Office of the Attorney General.

We don’t know when those two investigations will be completed. Nor do we know when a judge will rule on Mr. Giehl’s lawsuit, which alleges that the decisions concerning Mr. Starr’s employment contract were made behind closed doors — a clear violation of the Colorado Sunshine Law, if the court finds in Mr. Giehl’s favor.

Aspen Springs resident Steve Keno lawfully and legally serves papers to Archuleta County Attorney Todd Starr at the September 15, 2015, BOCC meeting.

Aspen Springs resident Steve Keno lawfully and legally serves papers to Archuleta County Attorney Todd Starr at the September 15, 2015, BOCC meeting.

My interview with Mr. Giehl bounced all over the political-legal map, beginning with a short discussion about Colorado Technical Services Inc. From the CTSI website:

Faced with excessive costs in the commercial insurance industry, Colorado county commissioners united in 1984 to form their own self-insurance pools. Counties pooled their resources and formed the County Health Pool, followed by the County Workers’ Compensation Pool and the Colorado Counties Casualty and Property Pool. CTSI administers the three pools and provides technical services…

… For more information, visit CWCP Documents under the Members Only area.

Sounds like a fine, efficient way for Colorado county governments to protect themselves, through a non-profit corporation.

Or a way to funnel taxpayer money into corporate bank accounts?

Greg Giehl explains:

“CTSI has been under investigation for allegedly stealing money, as a ‘front’ organization. At one point in this investigation, CTSI was responsible for funneling $60 million to a couple of insurance investors. So the profits from [CTSI investments] aren’t going back into the pool.

“The thing is, Clifford Lucero [sits on the BOCC] and he is at the same time the secretary of the County Workers Compensation Pool. That’s a serious conflict of interest.”

Here’s an image from the CTSI website:

15Ctsi_CliffordLucero

According to my reading to the Colorado Revised Statutes, a County commissioner is forbidden from serving on the board of a corporation that receives funding from his county budget. The current Archuleta BOCC has regularly ignored this Colorado law — on the advice of their attorney? — as have so many other county boards in Colorado.

An exploration of the CTSI website reveals an extensive amount of general policy and safety information that might be useful to a county government. We might also note that all the corporation’s financial data is hidden from view in a “Members Only” section, inaccessible to the taxpaying public — even though all of the revenues paid into this corporation presumably come from the taxpayers.

15Ctsi_MembersOnly

Based upon his reading of the Colorado Constitution, Greg Giehl asserts that all elected public officials must post a bond, and swear an oath of office, before they can assume their government role. The 52 Colorado counties belonging to CTSI, however, purchase something that Mr. Giehl referred to a “crime insurance” — insurance that takes the place of a bond — in the event that a commissioner, for example, is caught embezzling money or otherwise violating Colorado law.

Instead of requiring a County official to purchase a personal bond, in other words, the Archuleta County government uses taxpayer revenues to pay for insurance to cover our elected officials.

Greg Giehl:

“The People’s Grand Jury, on the Front Range, contacted Todd Starr for some of this information [about CTSI.] And he refused to respond. The Grand Jury then requested a subpoena through a superior court judge, and it was issued. Todd Starr was served with the subpoena, by [local resident] Steve Keno at the September 15, 2015, County Commissioner meeting.”

Mr. Giehl says the superior court judge subsequently issued an arrest warrant for Todd Starr, for contempt of court — and Archuleta County Sheriff Rich Valdez has that warrant, but thus far has been hesitant to actually arrest Mr. Starr.  This legal mess is separate from the investigation currently being conducted by the Colorado Attorney General’s office into alleged criminal behavior by Mr. Starr and the BOCC. Or so I understand.

“Todd Starr was served a subpoena. He resigned six days later, and was then hired back during an executive session.”

After coming out of the (illegal?) executive session on September 22, BOCC chair Michael Whiting offered this statement:

“It was a personnel matter, but, um, we’ve agreed with the personnel involved which is Todd Starr … uh, we received a resignation letter from Todd yesterday and we felt this executive session was important to walk through the, uh, transition … away from Todd Starr as County attorney full time to consider County attorney Todd Starr on contract for the County instead of an employee with the County … We were considering the option on whether or not to hire Todd as a contract attorney for the County. That was the content of our discussion.”

Conversations with employees — if properly announced — are allowed in closed-door executive sessions. Executive sessions are also allowed for receiving advice from an attorney on specific legal matters — if properly announced.

Negotiating a contract with a contractor is not an allowable reason for an executive session.

Was the September 22 BOCC executive session properly announced? Did the closed-door discussion violate the Colorado Sunshine Law?

Did the BOCC also violate additional state and local laws?

At some point, in the reasonably near future, we should hear a judge’s opinion about these questions.

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Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.