Mesa County attorney Patrick Coleman is no longer the Mesa County attorney.
After six years in office, the new County Board of Commissioners decided Tuesday “to go in a different direction,” and voted unanimously to terminate his contract with immediate effect.
This other direction?
“More transparency,” said Commissioner Janet Rowland, the new chair of the three-person board. “I think there is likely to be disagreement about what transparency should be.”
Both Rowland and newly minted Commissioner Cody Davis advocated greater transparency with the county government, saying there simply wasn’t enough. These include board meetings and compliance with the Open Meetings and Open Records laws of Colorado.
Regardless of these reasons, the three commissioners said it was not personal to opt for Coleman to be abolished and said he had done a good job.
“I support the decision of the new board that each new board who comes in here should have the opportunity to decide exactly what their leadership team will be like,” said Commissioner Scott McInnis. “I just see this change as a different direction. It has nothing to do with Mr. Coleman’s performance. (He) has served very diligently. “
According to his employment contract, Coleman is entitled to a severance package that is expected to cost the county about $ 102,000. That amount, on top of its accrued perks like unused vacation time, costs the county up to $ 120,000.
Coleman’s 17-strong office employs eight attorneys and provides legal assistance on everything from reviewing and drafting county contracts, defending the county in lawsuits filed against it, to handling legal issues for Mesa County Human Resources, especially child abuse and at-risk adult cases.
Coleman sometimes choked and sometimes fought back tears. He said he was sorry to leave but understood why. He praised his co-workers and other district workers, and singled out District Administrator Pete Baier above all others.
“Before I start, I’ll say my mom used to tell me my picture was there if you looked up a bubbling Irish definition in the dictionary. So if I get a little emotional I’ll apologize,” Coleman said the commissioners. “I encourage you to recognize your resources. Anyone who says, “They’re government employees, they just feed on the taxpayers.” You don’t know the people I work with, and Pete is at the top of that list.
“When I walk out the door, I’m not here to change your mind. I’m just saying that I’m grateful for the opportunity and will go out with my head held high. “
Rowland said the county was planning a national search to find his replacement.
Last month, Commissioners gave Coleman the power to negotiate out-of-court settlements, but no more than $ 250,000. At the time, Coleman said it was necessary because federal judges routinely order parties to settle, which Coleman’s office was previously prohibited from doing because he lacked that authority.
At the time, Coleman said the authority to negotiate settlements was not a message to others that the county paperback was open for them to file lawsuits, McInnis repeated on Tuesday.
Over the past five years, the county has paid out $ 232,000 in six settlements, including a couple who were among six former workers in the county’s information technology department due to be laid off in 2016 due to budget cuts, Coleman’s office said in response at a request from The Daily Sentinel’s Colorado Open Records Act.
Three of these layoffs led to complaints from workers that the then District Administrator Frank Whidden selected them to quit because of their age. Two, the couple, agreed to identical settlements for $ 62,500 each in 2018, and a third has a discrimination lawsuit pending in federal court.
That same year, Coleman received a 14% raise to $ 160,000 a year and another 15.6% raise last year, bringing his annual salary to $ 185,000.