County Commissioners terminate County Manager contract

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by Marissa Lorenz
A 10-minute special meeting of the Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on Thursday, December 3 concluded with the termination of the County’s contract with then County Manager Kate McIntire.

The special meeting was noticed on Tuesday, December 1, with the only agenda item being listed as a
“personnel matter–county manager.”

BOCC Chair Kristen Manguso called the meeting to order, stating that, while personnel matters would normally be handled in executive session, Manager McIntire had requested that it be held as an open public meeting. Manguso reminded those in attendance for the virtual meeting that there would be no opportunity for public comment, as it was not a public hearing.

She invited Commissioner Rich Cimino to speak, stating that he had called for the meeting. Cimino requested again that the meeting move to executive session, but McIntire declined. He gave an overview of McIntire’s relationship with the BOCC, explaining that she had been unanimously selected as county manager in early 2019 by the still-sitting BOCC.

“She was and remains a local government professional with a high level of skills and expertise and a long and distinct background, serving in various Colorado counties and working with many state leaders,” Cimino recognized, before stating that the Board and

Manager had had various ups and downs over the last two years, including both “successes and challenges.”

“I will refrain from discussing the challenges in any public setting,” Cimino said. He then explained that he had called McIntire on November 25 in a “routine call” in which the first item for discussion was an undisclosed incident that had occurred between McIntire and one of the commissioners. This is reported to have steered the call towards “a discussion on the overall professional relationship between the manager and the BOCC.”

“In hindsight, it was an overdue conversation, and I appreciate that we were able to have it,” stated Cimino. He said that he ended
the call, telling McIntire that he would communicate his desire for an executive session to discuss
the relationship further, but would wait until November 30 to do so.

Cimino asked again if McIntire would consider an executive session. McIntire deferred to her attorney Anthony “Jack” DiCola, also in attendance by phone. DiCola, a longtime attorney in Grand County and former county attorney, stated that he agreed with his client in asking for an open public forum.

“I think these conversations are best when held in executive session for personnel matters,” said Cimino. He continued, “I would like the BOCC and manager to discuss the nature of our current professional relationship and to consider if it’s best for the County and Kate if we part ways. If we do part ways, it is my strong hope that we do so in a manner that best preserves Kate’s future career and presents the Board of County Commissioners as a thoughtful professional body.”

Cimino invited response from McIntire or the other commissioners, and Commissioner Merrit Linke spoke, recognizing a challenging year and seeming to acknowledge communication issues between the Board and staff.

“I think we do send a lot of mixed messages not only to Kate but to a lot of County personnel,” Linke observed. “I think we could do a better job making sure we’re all on the same page before we look at someone else. If there’s miscommunication on behalf of the board, I think it’s part our fault too. I think we could do a better job at establishing lines of communication.

“I think, overall, Kate has been of huge benefit to Grand County. I think we’d be losing an important asset if she chose to part ways or if we chose to cause her to part ways,” he concluded. “I think she’s done a good job, and I would like to see her work continue if we can establish a better working relationship.”

McIntire stated that she did not have comments at the time. “I haven’t heard from the Board the reasons why this has been called and what it is, if anything, the Board feels I’ve done. Knowing that is always helpful.”

Manguso spoke, saying, “I’m not going to debate on this. It’s a personnel issue, and I don’t ever think it’s appropriate to bring up individual events.” She indicated having had previous conversations with McIntire and asked, “I think I’ve been very clear about my feelings and thoughts, yes?”

McIntire responded in the negative, saying, “I’m not going to acknowledge that. (…) This is surprising, and I feel that I do have a right to understand why it is that the Board is unhappy.”

“I don’t think that’s fair to you,” concluded Manguso. “Whatever way it goes, I would never want to do anything to harm you in the future. That would be wrong.”

Cimino moved to terminate the contract with the county manager.

Linke offered, “I feel this is wrong. I feel like it’s unexpected. I didn’t really know the nature of this meeting, but I don’t agree with the process at this point.”

Cimino and Manguso voted to terminate the contract. Linke gave a dissenting vote. Manguso declared the contract terminated, effective immediately. McIntire and DiCola pointed out that the contract required a 45- day written notice of termination. Manguso noted that the resolution that came out of the vote would serve as notice and that the County would pay McIntire for the 45 days.

Benefits will continue only for the 45-day time period, although McIntire’s contract also grants a six-month severance, to be paid in a lump sum at the end of the 45 days.

Not mentioned in the meeting was the fact that the BOCC received a number of letters from non-profit leaders, small business owners, and residents prior to the meeting, primarily in support of McIntire, opposing her termination and encouraging a continuity in leadership. As one supporter wrote, “This is a time when your constituents here in the county need you to work together for the betterment and well being and literal survival of our economy and quality of life.

“Whatever the ‘conflicts’ may be, this would be the time to man up and deal with them in a way that does not leave a key vacancy in our county infrastructure. This is not the time to throw more uncertainty into the mix in Grand County.”

During her tenure as county manager, Kate McIntire brought the Office of Emergency Management to fruition; facilitated the lease purchase of a new facility for the Human Services Department; worked with all departments to create a balanced 2021 budget, following the fiscally challenging year of COVID-19 and the East Troublesome Fire; created and led the Fire Recovery Task Force, which is expected to play a critical role in the coming years; and played a primary role in many other areas of regional and county service, such as ongoing water negotiations and the improvement of emergency response through the replacement of eight EMS ambulances and five quick-response vehicles.

McIntire and her family were among the evacuees of the East Troublesome Fire. She worked through that and through both the County administrative quarantine and a school quarantine.

“Grand County is my home, my community,” McIntire shared with the Grand Gazette. “It’s a place for people who have been here their whole lives and for people like me with young children who will be the future of this community. I will find other ways to make a positive impact that continues to move us forward not back.”