Stone: Ingstad was pushed out of job
EAGLE COUNTY – County Administrator Jack Ingstad’s resignation may have more to do with a change of commissioners than a change of career.Commissioner Tom Stone said he believes Ingstad was pushed out of his job by his colleagues and the board’s new majority, commissioners Peter Runyon and Arn Menconi, who was selected to be the board’s chairman in January.”I think Arn has a strange idea that as chairman he runs the county and doesn’t understand that the chairman is really only in charge of running the meetings,” Stone said. “My impression is that he wants to have more and more control over the county.”Documents obtained by the Vail Daily indicate that Ingstad was not asked to resign, but that he felt the commissioners were making it difficult for him to perform his job. The documents suggest Ingstad feared the board may violate Colorado open meeting laws, known as Sunshine Laws, and that the commissioners were intervening in personnel problems. Runyon and Menconi denied Stone’s claim that Ingstad was pushed into quitting. “That is not my understanding,” Runyon said. “As far as I’m concerned, Jack resigned.”Menconi reiterated that he was surprised when Ingstad announced last week that he wanted to leave his job.”I didn’t know that Jack was interested in moving on until somewhere before (last) Monday or Tuesday,” Menconi said. “Jack wanted to move on, and he came to the board and said he was interested in some other endeavors.”A message on Ingstad’s cell phone said he was on vacation and directed calls to his home phone. A message requesting comment was left at his home number, but was not returned. The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a severance package worth $99,634 for Ingstad on Tuesday. That amount represents six months’ salary, time off owed to Ingstad and health insurance coverage for the rest of 2005, Stone explained during Tuesday’s meeting.
It’s not unusual for a longtime employee to receive a severance package, even if he willingly resigned, Menconi said. “He did a good job and deserves recognition for that,” he said. No surprise?It’s not unusual to see a change in government staff after an election, said Jim Fritze, a former county attorney who worked with Stone and Menconi. Fritze left the county in 2001 and worked for the city of Montrose until his retirement this week. But he has spoken with Ingstad a couple of times since then. Ingstad seemed to be under more pressure lately, he said.”Sometimes you kind of weather the storm,” Fritze said. “Sometimes the board gets tired of you.”Last November’s election signaled a significant philosophical shift on the Board of County Commissioners. Since 1998, Stone, a Republican who describes himself as a fiscal conservative, has represented the majority vote on most county issues. Menconi, a Democrat who has championed social causes since his election to the board in 2000, was almost always in the minority. Runyon’s election to the board in 2004 has shifted the majority vote to Menconi’s side on most county issues so far.There was a perception that Ingstad sided with Stone on county issues, rather than Menconi, Fritze said. But Ingstad is the type of county administrator who does what the board’s majority wants, Fritze added.
“In recent years… that largely was what Tom Stone wants,” he said. “But I think Tom Stone is going to feel like one of his principal allies is gone now. Although I think, at least before I left, Arn was happy with Jack, too.”Under Ingstad’s tenure, the county adopted a policy of having at least 25 percent worth of reserve money in the county’s budget. While the commissioners have sometimes gone below that amount, the county still is criticized for being stingy. Menconi has been critical of the policy, too. Taxpayers should expect that their taxes are being spent on improving the county, he said. “Why would health and human services have a reserve of 25 percent, when health and human services could use that money to provide better services?” Menconi asked. Stone, however, likes the 25 percent policy. “I hope the board does not change direction where we start hurting the county’s policies with reserves,” Stone said. “I think there was some concern among other board members that Jack was too conservative, fiscally.”Time for changeThere is at least some indication that Menconi and Runyon are interested in making changes in the county’s leadership.Menconi wants to hire an outside consultant to look for better ways to manage the county. Not that there’s anything wrong with how the county is organized now, he said. Menconi said that he is more concerned with the commissioners’ management style.”Hopefully that would have been a benefit for all of the county staff,” he said. “I’ve floated this out here for well over a year. It’s more of an effort to take us from good to great, and to find out where our strengths and weaknesses are. No one should ever feel embarrassed or concerned by that.”
Leading up to Ingstad’s announcement, Runyon had been meeting with some county staff to discuss how the county was doing. When asked if those discussions were about Ingstad, Runyon responded, “I am a new commissioner and in that aspect I have indeed been meeting with a number of the department heads. By no means have I met with all of them and we’ve discussed a wide range of topics.”Runyon also wants to bring in a management consultant. “Because it’s very difficult for somebody, for any manager at any level, to understand what the people below him or her really think about them,” he said.Stone is concerned there may be other staff changes to come. “To do it for the sake of just cleaning house is a real mistake because we have very good people who are some of the best in the nation,” Stone said. “And they will follow the board’s priorities, but those priorities have to be articulated by a majority of the board,” he said. Runyon and Menconi met with all of the county’s department directors last Friday to talk about how best to handle the county’s business without a county administrator. Stone had a conflict and couldn’t attend. Both Runyon and Menconi praised the directors for their work. Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 607 or firstname.lastname@example.orgVail Colorado
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