Commission renews county administrator's contract for three years

The commission also raised concerns about perceptions that its tourism chief's business is a conflict of interest.

County Administrator Craig Coffey (File photo by Anastasia Pagello.)
County Administrator Craig Coffey (File photo by Anastasia Pagello.)
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County Administrator Craig Coffey's contract came up for an automatic three-year renewal this week: The County Commission, by contract, would have to notify him by Oct. 23 to stop it from taking place. But that wasn't on the agenda for the Monday, Oct. 19 County Commission meeting, although commissioners ultimately took a vote and approved the three-year renewal unanimously. 

Coffey's contract will now continue through Feb. 23, 2019. He's currently paid about $152,000 per year, plus benefits.

But one commissioner raised questions about the wisdom of approving the contract before Coffey's performance evaluation, another criticized the evaluation method, and audience members chastised the board in the meeting's public comment period for not adding the issue to the meeting's agenda.

Commissioner Charlie Ericksen raised the issue at the meeting, noting that it was the board's last opportunity to discuss the contract renewal.

"I'd like to make a motion that we delay the decision until we have delivered the administrator's annual performance appraisal, which I believe we'll do Nov. 15, and have discussed it as a group in a workshop (Board of County Commissioners) meeting," he said.

Commissioners went into the meeting aware that there would be public interest in the contract renewal: Local online news source had already interviewed most of them for a news story headlined "County Administrator's and Attorney's Contracts May Renew Through 2019 Without Discussion," which was published earlier in the day. 

"It's always good to look in the mirror on a regular basis, and, as a group, to make sure that we’re headed in the right direction with the right leader."

—Charlie Ericksen, county commissioner

After Ericksen spoke at the meeting to make his motion, Commissioner Barbara Revels said his approach "makes sense, as far as extending the contract after airing a review."

But no one seconded Ericksen's motion, which then died.

Commissioner Frank Meeker said the board could always fire Coffey if it needed to. 

"I figure I can extend the contract, and then with a motion and a second and three votes, terminate the contract," he said. He said later in the meeting that he had full confidence in Coffey.

Commissioner Nate McLaughlin asked County Attorney Al Hadeed if the commission could extend the contract only a month in order for the board to be able to review it later in a workshop, and Hadeed said he believed the board would need Coffey's consent to delay the automatic renewal.

Commissioner George Hanns, the commission's longest-serving board member, warned the commission against getting rid of an effective staff member who could be hard to replace. 

"I know what it's like living through many transitions where when the going gets tough, some people like to bail out and go headhunting and get rid of somebody, and then we're stuck with a mess, and then nobody can come on board and deal with existing conditions," he said. "Let's deal with whatever we have to deal with. We have some dedicated people, but I'm certainly not leaning toward eliminating someone who has been a mainstay in our organization and has a familiarity with all the different contracts and negotiations and everything that we've dealt with. It's not easy to replace that knowledge."

McLaughlin said all of Coffey's evaluations are available for review, and the process is transparent; he saw no reason not to have the contract renew automatically. 

Revels said she felt like she was critical of Coffey whenever she saw "something that should be handled differently," and suggested that he "pay attention to the human side" of the county's administration, and she agreed with Ericksen when Ericksen called the form used to evaluate Coffey "a popularity type of a form" with questions that are "very hard to get any objective measurements out of."

Ericksen said he wanted to make it clear that his motion was "not to bash the county administrator."

"It's always good to look in the mirror on a regular basis, and as a group, to make sure that we're headed in the right direction with the right leader," he said. "And my comments are not to imply that I have negative view of his performance, but it's, again, to also assure the 100,000 individuals out there that we have the right person in place, and we're supporting him, and we truly believe we have that."

Revels said she thought it should have been on the agenda. 

"I think for the public's point, as well as our employees: If there is a drop-dead date, which is today, that we have to give notice of up or down what we want to do, I think that it would have been more transparent, and more actually supportive, to have notified us and put it on the agenda. ... It just doesn't give a good feeling when (Coffey's and Hadeed's contracts) are just not brought up at all."

McLaughlin motioned to approve Coffey's contract, and the board approved it unanimously.


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