Behind closed doors

Ralston says executive session showed a divided board and a resentful chairman

Former Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Director Wally Ralston wasn't fired from his position, but it was close.

It almost happened, Ralston said, because board Chairman Les Hampton spearheaded an effort to remove him because of ongoing personality conflicts.

"It's very obvious that Les and Wally can't work together," board member Chris Nichols said Thursday during an executive session to discuss Ralston's termination. "It's to a point that it's counterproductive."

Nichols voted to retain Ralston.

"We have a plan set up for a course of action for our employee and I don't think we can abandon ship on him," he said. "We're not all on the same page and I think it's premature to terminate Wally."

Eight members of the EDP board of directors met in a closed session at an emergency meeting called Thursday. The meeting was originally called to discuss the group's bylaws and Hampton asked the board to adjourn into executive session.

The board voted 4-4 on whether to terminate Ralston.

"The perception is that (Ralston's) tough to get along with. I don't get that at all," board member Scott Cook said at Thursday's

meeting. "But the perception is that we have a problem and we need to do something

about it."

Cook voted to terminate Ralston.

Hampton reported to the board that he had received several negative comments about Ralston from the community and said he had asked those people to put their statements in writing but none did.

"I think we can move ahead and I think we can do the things this community needs done, but I don't think we can do it with this director," Hampton said.

Ralston has reportedly made negative comments about the Craig City Council, the city's building inspector and some business owners and has offended people in several ways.

Ralston's employment was placed on Thursday's agenda and voted on though Ralston had asked for the discussion to be delayed until he had an attorney at the meeting to represent him.

He resigned following the meeting.

"My attorneys told me I shouldn't have resigned," Ralston said. "I didn't want to be the cause of any more divisiveness."

Ralston said Hampton micro-managed him and his efforts toward economic development were thwarted shortly after he started.

"You need to empower your economic development director," Ralston said. "I never had that."

He said he has never had the support to take the important step of helping to expand existing businesses.

"I don't know what happened," he said. "All of the sudden there was a 180-degree reversal. People were saying 'I've never said that,' 'I didn't sign that,' 'I don't remember that.'"

He said he sees himself as a

scapegoat.

"I think there are people on the board who don't want to take any more heat," he said. "If I can be the bad guy, it's very convenient. Now that I'm leaving, they can blame me. I'm the bad guy. I came to Craig to do evil things."

Hampton said there were several reasons he pushed for Ralston's termination. Many of those were outlined during a December EDP board meeting at which Ralston was given several "goals," one of which was to "mend fences." Ralston reportedly offended several community members and groups, resulting in negative feedback to board members, and was asked to contact those people.

"He hasn't even had 30 days to work on that list of suggestions," board member Fran DiBartolo said. DiBartolo voted to support Ralston. "It's not going to resolve anything to bring up 'he said, she said' issues. I think that's immature, totally immature. And I really think the community deserves better."

Ralston reported to the board that he contacted all the people he was asked to and said several didn't know what negativity to which the board was referring.

He reported all responded favorably.

The board also asked that Ralston voluntarily submit to a personality profile, attend Chamber of Commerce board meetings and continue to make presentations to members of the business community about the EDP's goals and mission.

During Thursday's executive session, opinions were divided with Ralston's proponents being the most vocal.

"With Wally, we have a known quantity. A known commodity," board member Jerry Thompson said. "We could terminate Wally and spend some time going through another hiring process, which in and of itself would set us back and we may end up with someone worse -- a lot worse -- who maybe doesn't have the knowledge and expertise that Wally has. I think if we come together as a group, as a board, then I think the community will rally behind us."

Ralston said he has always been willing to release documents requested by the Craig Daily Press and has delivered several of them this week.

According to Hampton and other board members, Ralston threatened to contact an attorney if any personal records relating to his employment were released.

Ralston said he believes the board represents a "no-growth" philosophy he believes is reflected by about 30 percent of Craig.

"I think they paid lip service to the growth agenda and then hired someone they could keep ineffectual," he said.

The problem, Ralston said, is the issue of economic development is becoming too political.

"We need a good pro-development, pro-business effort," he said. "Businesses don't want to fund another political effort."

Ralston believes Moffat County's economic development effort will never be successful with the current board governing -- particularly with Hampton at the helm.

"I think I gave this a pretty good shot," he said. "There's probably someone with a different personality who would have better success with the current players."

"If this is the kind of hospitality that you all like to show people, then I don't think you'll get many people here," he said.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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