P&PL Settles Lawsuit with County Commissioners

President Susan St. Vincent Statement:

As President of the Trustees, I am here today on behalf of the Pines & Plains Libraries Board to speak publically regarding the many misleading statements in the County’s June 21st press release. Such statement may have caused confusion among the public regarding the recently settled lawsuit between Elbert County and Pines & Plains Libraries.

First, the County claims Pines & Plains “abruptly sued” the County after “10 months of public discussion”, of which Commissioner Thayer now is quoted to say that this matter could have been resolved “over a cup of coffee.”  A review of the BOCC’s agendas and minutes for 2017 reveals that there was no discussion of substance regarding the Appointment policy, nor was a text of the policy produced, until May 2017.  The library submitted written objections and legal based corrections to this draft, which was then tabled by the BOCC and not taken up again until seven months later at the December 20th public meeting.

On December 20th, a member of the Library Board of Trustees pointed out to the Commissioners that the latest policy draft had not been made available on the County website and requested that consideration be postponed to give the public a chance to review the document.   The BOCC essentially ignored this request and immediately approved the appointment policy.

The Friday night before the lawsuit was filed (January 12, 2018), I personally called Commissioner Chair Danny Wilcox to let him know that we, the library board, were still hoping that the BOCC would withdraw the appointment policy as it relates to the Library District.  I let him know that as a matter of legal timing, we would have to file the suit no later than the following week, which was 5 days from the night of the phone call.  Hence, there was still time for action on the BOCC’s part.

During that conversation, I point blank asked Chair Wilcox, “If there weren’t two specific people on the library board, would we be in this position and would the policy have been created?”  Without hesitation, he responded “No”.  I clarified that we were specifically speaking of Trustees Rick Brown and Jill Duvall, and Chair Wilcox replied “Yes”.  During that conversation, I expressed my disappointment that the BOCC could not see the positives that Rick and Jill have brought to the library board over their years of service, and pointed out that Commissioner Thayer had personally worked with them on the board without any verbalized issue with either Trustee.   I would remind you that there is a “Trustee removal process” in the state statutes that could have been utilized if it had been deemed necessary. 

In a subsequent conversation by way of Commissioner Thayer calling me directly on a Sunday (which he said was likely something his attorneys would not support), I posed the same question to him about the basis for the appointment policy – he, too, stated that if it weren’t for Jill and Rick, there would be no BOCC appointment policy.  Within a few days of this conversation, I was made aware that the County had hired outside legal counsel to address the suit, rather than utilize the County Attorney who is presently on the payroll.

It is important to note, that the Commissioners through an appointment policy made an effort to “politicize” a non-political special district, with a vendetta against two specific Trustees based on their personal politics and as Chair Wilcox stated to me that , “they are a thorn in our side”.   The Commissioners were invited on multiple occasions to attend a library board meetings, however, none were ever present.   Again, with the exception of Commissioner Thayer who sat on the Library Board (including the budget committee for 2 cycles) prior to being elected to his current Commissioner position.

            Which brings us to the present…The lawsuit WAS recently “dismissed” because the BOCC entered into an intergovernmental agreement.  The Agreement states that it “supersedes the Appointments Policy” and also states that the BOCC Policy “shall not apply to the District”– the relief “WE, the library” were seeking in the lawsuit.  In light of this language it’s astonishing that the County’s press release quotes Commissioner Richardson as saying, “the agreement reached, parallels the language of the approved appointments policy.”  This is far from the truth.

Since we reached a settlement, dismissal was at the request of both parties, not the court, as the County’s press release intimates.

Finally, Commissioner Wilcox’s statement that THREE trustees’ terms have expired is also untrue, as is his claim that one trustee’s term expired a year and a half ago.  The terms of two trustees, Suzanne O’Neill and Rick Brown, expired this year in January 2018, and I expect that recommendations for appointments to these positions will be made at our next monthly meeting, scheduled for tonight in Simla.  It would have made no sense to make appointment recommendations prior to this time without being assured that the County would not apply the Appointments Policy to the library district.  The library’s bylaws, adopted pursuant to state statute, provide that trustees serve until their successors are appointed.

In closing, we are pleased the lawsuit has been resolved, but disappointed that litigation was necessary to get the County to accept a principle clearly set forth in Colorado law and that the County chose to celebrate our agreement with a truly misleading press release.  As a proud member of the Library Board, it truly makes me sick and extremely disappointed that the citizens of Elbert County lost precious library programs, resources and materials which could have been purchased – and had been budgeted for in the 2018 budget – in exchange for professional legal services.

Click here to download the Settlement and Intergovernmental Agreements