MONTE VISTA—Public Works Director Rob Vance gave a passionate defense of himself, the city and his hardworking crew at the Thursday, Jan. 18 meeting of the Monte Vista City Council. He was supported by the large presence of his city crew in the audience. Vance’s address was in direct response to allegations made by Finance Director Heather Hixson at the Jan. 4 meeting.
Since many of Hixson’s allegations centered around the public works department and what she believed to be misuse of taxpayer dollars, unethical conduct, nepotism and misappropriation, Vance used copies of the municipal code and pointed out he felt vital parts of the code were left out by Hixson. Vance also provided many documents that addressed city crews being allowed to use the shop after hours, liability waivers, memorandums and personally responded to accusations of nepotism and explained exemptions in city code that allowed for city employees to use city vehicles such as employees in on-call positions and police officers. He also explained that many of the issues brought up by Hixson had already been addressed by him and the previous and current city managers.
Vance began with an analogy that he believes describes how the city of Monte Vista operates. “City council, you are an airline flying at the 50,000-foot level. At your altitude you can see both horizons: The horizon of where we have been and you can also see the horizon in front of you. The city manager is flying between 10,000 and 20,000 feet. The city manager can see the horizons but can also see the mountains and valleys. The manager can see the uphill struggles and lush valleys that are in the path to reach the horizon. The department heads are flying at the 5,000 and 10,000 feet and can see details. We see which passes are climbable to get over mountains and which gullies should be avoided. The remaining city employees are the crop dusters. They are flying at the crop level doing everything they can to make sure the crop is not overrun with weeds. They do this so there is an actual harvest to keep us moving towards the horizon,” said Vance.
He continued by sharing that in his view the Monte Vista Municipal Code is the aircraft, holding up a copy. He told the city council that it is a living, breathing document that the council would work on during their term and either dislike or like what is already in there. “You may also find there are items not covered by this book,” he said. Vance stated the council and city manager have the authority to make any necessary changes to enact their vision for Monte Vista. “It takes all of the aircraft or all of us to reach the horizon or goal for the city of Monte Vista. Sometimes that doesn’t happen.”
Vance said that while Hixson did not mention specific names in her allegations the statements were enough to imply some of her statements were directed at the public works department. Vance said that it his normal policy to not say anything about negative comments and to continue to move forward; he instructs his staff and their significant others to do the same. He stated that he knows his department usually does not make headlines and if they do, it is often for things such as a park opening, Arbor Day or when something bad happens that needs to be fixed. Vance said that since public works does work that is not always “newsworthy” he usually follows that policy.
“But on January 4th all of that changed. There is no way that I can instruct my staff on being silent when I knew within a few minutes of the finance director’s report that I would not remain silent. She chose to describe widespread corruption and theft and general misuse of taxpayers’ dollars. As I know everyone that works at the city I found her remarks extremely offensive,” said Vance.
Hixson stated during her remarks that as a certified public accountant (CPA) she has an ethical responsibility to bring up her concerns with how funds are being allocated. Vance stated that he too had three letters that appeared behind his name Colorado certified water professional (CWP). He said that his professional credentials also require ethical behavioral standards and advanced educational credits.
Vance then proceeded to address each individual allegation made by Hixson. He began this portion by asserting the finance director had not followed proper protocol to present to council. He also said he believes he would be prove that her statements were half-truths and in some cases false.
It should be noted Hixson did ask for a modification to the agenda to present her sensitive concerns in an executive session. When the request was denied she decided to present her allegations during her already scheduled time to address the city council. Vance did schedule a time outside of his regularly scheduled report to address council and was added to the agenda to present “information.” The concern presented at the Jan. 4 meeting of the Monte Vista City Council was that by addressing council first she was not following the proper chain of command to have her concerns listened to. However, it appears through information that has been shared and gathered over the last few weeks members of city council and city administration were already aware of some of her concerns.
Vance first addressed the allegation that there was unethical after-hours shop use which created a liability for the city. Vance stated that when he was first hired in March 2012 this was one issue brought up to him. He asked the employees and they stated it was true but only because they had to use personal tools for city work. Over 11 months he worked with the city manager and human resource coordinator to develop a policy to allow use of the city shop in exchange for employees’ use of personal tools. In response to possible liability Vance said employees who want to use the shop have to sign a waiver of liability. He also said the policy document strictly prohibits the use of consumables and that there is a security system in place so he knows who enters the building and the DVR and monitor are under lock and key.
Vance next addressed Hixson stating the city purchases tools for the city mechanic to keep. “That statement is not entirely true, and it is definitely not the way she implied,” he said. Vance stated that the city requires the mechanic to supply his own professional mechanic tools. He explained that the city will replace any broken tools for the city mechanic. He then showed broken tools from a box to show what may have been replaced.
He then addressed the issue of city owned vehicles being used to commute to and from work. He stated there are policies that allow city employees to use city-owned vehicles. The policies found in the Monte Vista Personnel Rules and Regulation Manual state that police officers, the on-call public works employee and any other employee designated by the city manager are exempt from a policy stating that under no circumstances can a city vehicle be used to commute back and forth to work.
Pay for on-call with no actual work being conducted was also brought up by Hixson. Vance explained how on-call worked and that employees had 30 minutes to respond to any call and if they can not fulfill on-call duties are subject to disciplinary action. He explained policy and compensation. He then provided a list of on-call duties completed since Jan. 4. According to his list there have been 10 calls completed as of Monday, Jan. 15. It should be noted Hixson’s concern was that money is still being paid out even when there are no actual calls which is not known to be a standard business practice.
Hixson also stated that policies on payroll were not being handled properly because policies seem to change constantly. Vance said in regards to that he agreed and that payroll has been messy for nearly a year. He stated the city has installed a new system with the number one payroll station in the nation and there are still issues. “I think we are making head way but it is still a frustration for the employees.”
In regards to salaried employees abusing their time Vance disputed Hixson’s claims. Hixson has alleged that some salaried employees who she did not specifically mention by name are not working the actual 40 hours per week they are required to. Vance said he believes that the salaried employees work beyond those hours, and since they are do not qualify for overtime are not compensated for any after hours or weekend work.
Vance finally took issue with Hixson’s allegations of nepotism. He said he believes Hixson was misconstruing the definition of nepotism. He went on to define nepotism as described in the policy manual which states there can be no supervisory roles over relatives and there are four distinct situations that cannot exist. He showed a diagram of the city structure and said that he and his wife, who is the city clerk, have no supervisory roles over each other. He also stated that when he was acting city manager he was aware of the possible perception of nepotism and therefore had the city clerk be under the supervision of human resources. Vance alleged that none of the four issues exist. He also stated throughout the city there are siblings and other relatives, even cousins. Vance stated he believed this situation exists throughout many communities in the small Valley.
At the Thursday, Jan. 4 meeting however, Resolution 1-2018 had originally been formatted in which the city clerk and public works director would have signing authority on city checks. This would fall under the city’s definition of nepotism. Hixson brought up the concern to the city council. As a result the resolution was amended to more closely follow the city charter and the possible nepotism did not occur.
Vance concluded by stating that none of the issues brought up were unethical conduct in his opinion. “(It was not) unethical conduct and none of it a misuse of taxpayers’ dollars, but instead they are policy. Policies you may or may not agree with but in no way shape or form are they unethical conduct or a misuse of taxpayers’ dollars...We are doing what we are charged to do and that is the carrying out policies and procedures that were enacted by city councils and city managers and doing our best to conserve those taxpayers dollars,” said Vance.
Quoting Paul Harvey, Vance left the podium by saying, “and now you know the rest of the story.”