During the public comment section of the Jan 8 meeting of the Chaffee County Commissioners, Alison Brown raised an ethics issue that she said had gone unanswered by the county since her Nov. 28 complaint to Chaffee County Director of General Administration Bob Christiansen. She submitted another letter outlining her concerns.
The document alleged that county staff had misrepresented facts concerning her application for a kennel permit to keep her American foxhounds at her property at 11600 Antelope Road. She asked that “an unbiased third party” be assigned to review and present the county’s staff report concerning the application, so that unbiased information would be presented to the County Board.
“I am here today to bring to your attention a serious ethics issue within the county,” said Brown, who said she received a response on Dec. 24, dismissing her core concerns. She said she has to received a response to the letter she filed on Dec. 27 in response, leading her to conclude that her request for clarification had been ignored.
Brown’s original letter had pointed out the sworn testimony by Chris Vely, presented in the July 13, 2018 District Court defamation trial (Vely v. Brown) indicated that three county staff members (Jon Roorda, Dan Swallow and Jenny Davis) made a visit to Vely’s home in Jan. 2018. The visit was prior to the sound tests done on the site for the purposes of determining the number of dogs present on her property, when Brown says all dogs were there. Vely testified durng the trial that only eight to 10 dogs were on the property and gave the impression that county officials would support his narrative.
In the county’s response to Brown, it referenced this visit by county staff to the Vely property as a “site visit” to her property.
“If the county had asked for a site visit I would have been happy to work with you to arrange it,” said Brown. “But you didn’t.”
Brown contends that the sound tests were done with all dogs on the property and that she hired an off duty police officer to be on the property during the sound test time frame. Her attorney Charlie Cain issued a letter to commissioners on Aug. 26 2018 pointing out that she was concerned that county officials would interject themselves on behalf of the Vely party in the coming civil suit. The letter asked for clarification that the county wasn’t taking sides. While the trial court rejected testimony that challenged Brown’s expert sound measurements, Cain pointed out that it did not address why the county was inserting itself into the court process in the first place.
During public comment, Brown quoted from an extract from a booklet published by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) titled “Ethics Matter – Advice to Public Managers”.
“‘Leaders should not underestimate the harm that an ethical misstep can do to the staff, organization, and community. It’s often manifested in that intangible, yet hard to repair, factor of trust. The average ethical disaster starts quietly with the initial inquiry, rumor, or report of questionable conduct by a public official or agency. Next comes the response, almost always issued by a spokesperson, offering a denial, counter explanation, or vague statement of concern.’
“’What’s missing? No mention of decisive and timely action that would restore trust,’” quoted Brown. “’In other words, confidence that the leadership was committed to rooting out unethical or corrupt conduct, understood the systemic weakness that allowed it to happen in the first place, and took concrete steps to a prevent recurrence.'”
“The citizens of Chaffee County are entitled to have an ethical, open and accountable local government,” said Brown. “I am asking you today to engage an independent third party, from an organization such as ICMA, to perform an independent review of the ethics issue I have raised and provide you a report of their findings. This will allow you to take whatever action is appropriate to demonstrate to the public that Chaffee County government operates in a manner consistent with appropriate ethical principles and values, and restore public trust.”
Brown’s request for a response to her ethics questions appeared to surprise the commissioners.
“We haven’t heard anything about this,” said Chair Greg Felt. But he agreed that the commissioners would look into the issues Brown raised and that she was owed a response.
Brown’s long-delayed application for a kennel permit comes before the Chaffee County Planning Commission as the sole topic of a special meeting, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, Jan. 15.