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Board chooses to end Ralston's contract, bylaws remain in dispute

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The Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership board of directors voted 3-2 to end Wally Ralston's contract with the EDP in a vote that may or may not have been legal according to bylaws that may or may not govern the board.

Ralston was hired as the group's director in April.

Ralston resigned Thursday, giving the board 60 days notice as required by his employment contract. At the time of his resignation, board members were deadlocked in a closed session as to whether to fire him.

On Tuesday, five members of the board voted to pay Ralston's salary for the next 60 days -- more than $14,000 in wages, benefits and taxes -- but asked him to leave immediately.

"The public will wonder about paying him when he's not working but, by the same token, I think it's better to send him down the road," board member Scott Cook said. "The question is whether (Ralston's) going to help or hurt (the board). From a PR standpoint, I'd hate to see us pay a severance, for lack of a better word."

Cook voted in favor of letting Ralston go.

Board members who voted in favor of keeping Ralston said they don't want to see the progress he's made on some projects come to a halt.

"Some of the current projects would stop if he were gone and (Ralston's) directly involved in some of those. I don't want to see that stop," board member Jerry Thompson said. Thompson voted in favor of retaining Ralston during both Thursday's executive session and Wednesday's board meeting.

Several board members recommended that Ralston be allowed to work out his notice but to give him specific tasks.

The board did not approve that recommendation.

"There's a concern that his involvement with the public at large would not be beneficial," board member Sid Arola said. Arola voted to keep Ralston for the next 60 days.

The board's original vote was 2-2, with Chairman Les Hampton not being allowed to vote.

Thompson argued that Hampton, who also is a Moffat County commissioner, was serving as an ex-officio member, therefore, not entitled to a vote.

Arola said he interpreted the bylaws to mean ex-officio members were entitled to vote.

So did Hampton.

"According to Robert's Rules of Order, the chairman is entitled to vote," Hampton said.

Hampton is not referred to as an ex-officio member in the minutes of prior board meetings and he has been allowed to vote previously.

The argument over whether an ex-officio member is allowed to vote began at the board's emergency meeting Thursday. Some board members felt the bylaws are unclear as to who should hold an ex-officio position and whether that person is entitled to a vote.

"We need to decide this issue, but not in relation to any vote," Cook said. "I think ex-officios should have a vote but we shouldn't implement that to break a tie. I think all we're doing (by arguing) is raising our blood pressure until we get the bylaws set."

The board decided its first task should be clarifying the bylaws.

According to Craig City Manager Jim Ferree, an ex-officio member, the bylaws were never formally adopted by the membership, therefore, are not technically even in effect and therefore, the board is not technically violating them when convening meetings or voting.

"The problem is we have a board that was trying to get its act together at the same time we had an employee who needs more supervision," Ferree said.

Without Hampton's vote, the board did not have a quorum. Hampton also tried to get the votes of absent board members -- four votes in favor of removing Ralston immediately -- counted, but, according to the EDP bylaws, members who are not in attendance do not have votes. The board chose not to count those votes in accordance with the bylaws.

"Their concern was (Ralston) could cause more damage than help," Hampton said.

Thompson made a motion that would allow ex-officio members to vote "for the purpose of this meeting."

The vote passed 4-0. It was considered by the board to pass though there wasn't a quorum.

Hampton then cast the tie-breaking vote to remove Ralston immediately.

Ralston said he was surprised at the decision and that he expected to continue working for the next 60 days.

It also was pointed out Tuesday that the Partnership had been shelling out $96,000 a year in wages, benefits and taxes for Ralston. Because the EDP was paying Ralston's payroll taxes, he was taking home a tax-free paycheck.

Ralston was contracted to earn $60,000 a year -- gross -- plus $13,500 in benefits. Instead, he was earning $60,000 a year -- net.

"We're paying for a lot more than we're getting and that's part of my concern," Hampton said.

The error was attributed to an accounting mistake and was discovered last week.

The board will begin the search for a new director immediately. Board members will review the job description created when they originally advertised for the position and will use the same methods -- the Internet, the Colorado Workforce Center and through the state's economic development office in the search.

Hampton asked the board to consider advertising locally only.

"Let's look within our community," he said. "I'm not comfortable bringing in an outsider -- an unknown -- and quite frankly we can do it at about half the cost."

Other board members didn't favor the suggestion.

"We should advertise in our community, but not limit it," Thompson said. "For something like this, we need the best. I think if we get the right kind of person, then money isn't the issue. That person is bringing it in."

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

BREAKBOX

The Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Committee board of directors agreed Tuesday to schedule regular monthly meeting dates. The board will meet at 11:30 a.m. the third Thursday of each month at the Craig Holiday Inn.

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