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Lots of smoke

Don Rogers

If we occasionally fretted about the county commissioners being petty, we didn’t fear for the Best Run County falling into disarray. Until now.It may be that County Administrator Jack Ingstad needed to go. Now. On the eve of the next budget planning cycle.Watching Ingstad’s resignation play out, though, we’re not so sure about how this has been handled.Since when does an employee leaving the county on his own require a $100,000 severance agreement? Commissioner Arn Menconi tests credulity by blithely calling such deals routine. Really? That’s either awfully free spending of taxpayer dollars or Mr. Menconi is mistaken. No, the county commissioners paid him to go away. That much is clear. And Commissioner Tom Stone has declared that his colleagues pushed Ingstad.Notes that Ingstad wrote to County Attorney Diane Mauriello and to the commissioners the week before he quit provide some insight. Certainly more so than the cat-who-ate-the-canary statements of Commissioners Menconi and Peter Runyon, who said Ingstad’s resignation surprised them. To Mauriello, in a note dated April 22, Ingstad claimed that Menconi and Runyon “constantly interfere” with personnel matters. “Allowing explosive directors to intimidate everyone including myself tells me they have no intention of a kinder gentler organization,” he wrote. “What they really want is to protect their friends, advance their agenda and intimidate me.”In his note to the commissioners discussing county issues and offering advice for when he’s gone, Ingstad warned, “One employee lawsuit can cost you dearly. I suspect I’m in trouble with you guys now for comments from your employee friends. Please be careful protecting your friends and not allowing supervisors to do their jobs. The administrator and human resources director cannot have their hands tied worrying about your friends.”In his note to Mauriello, Ingstad claimed that the new majority of Menconi and Runyon has “retaliated against me for enforcing the sunshine law, exposing criminal activity, expressing concern about employees providing them personal assistance and interfering with personnel matters related to their friends or individual that they need to advance their agenda.”To be sure, the note to the county attorney appears to angle for leverage in negotiations for a severance package. Ingstad claimed that commissioners intimidated and defamed him, and that one commissioner had violated his privacy by going through his personal papers and e-mail. Ingstad has declined to discuss any details of his resignation with journalists. His note to the commissioners is heavy with budgetary and personnel warnings. He appears concerned about how willing the current majority is to spend, and cautions them about shrinking reserves and large obligations. Neither message paints a flattering picture this year of what had been recognized as one of the nation’s “Best Run” counties with Ingstad, a lawyer and former North Dakota state senator, serving as county administrator since 1999.Commissioners Menconi and Runyon say they are scrupulous about following open meetings laws and staying out of personnel matters. Runyon says he has no friends in the county government. Given the light investment in raises and such this year, that might well be the truest statement we’ve heard lately.We believe the community absolutely has a right to understand how their local government is functioning, especially when public statements do not square with the picture behind the scenes. So we are following this closely and quoting from documents mailed to us in an unmarked envelope.The commissioners do need to be circumspect, though not evasive, in their comments about their departed administrator. Stone’s criticism must be taken with knowledge of his animosity toward Menconi. And Ingstad’s letters reflect the world through Jack’s eyes, no doubt with an eye toward that severance package.Still, it is clear enough that all is not right at the County Building today. From the newsroom perspective, the government on balance was well-run with Ingstad at the helm. Now he’s gone. Yeah, we’re concerned. You should be, too.Vail, Colorado


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