Dolores town manager resigns, cites Sunshine Law violation

Wednesday, June 6, 2018 9:58 PM

Interim Dolores Town Manager David Stahl Sr. abruptly resigned last week after alleging that three town board members violated Colorado’s Sunshine Law while preparing for an interview process for town positions.

“It was unexpected and unfortunate,” said Dolores Mayor Chad Wheelus, of the resignation. “We need a town manager, and hiring one will be a priority.”

Stahl hailed from the Front Range and had worked as a town manager for multiple Colorado towns. He also has a business background.

He was hired in February as the interim manager under an 18- to 26-week contract and was interested in a long-term contract. Stahl replaced Lana Hancock, who had been working double duty as the town manager and town clerk. She now continues to work as the clerk.

On May 29, Stahl submitted a letter of resignation to the town board effective at 5 p.m. and claimed inappropriate communication between board members regarding a procedure to interview candidates for town attorney and the planning and zoning board. At the May 14 Board of Trustees meeting, the town board decided to hold the interviews in public at the May 29 workshop.

Upon request on Friday, Wheelus provided The Journal with Stahl’s resignation letter and the disputed emails.

In his resignation letter, Stahl said discussion of a rating system for applicants of the vacant town attorney and planning board positions should have been done during a scheduled public meeting.

He stated that it was improper “for three members of the (Board of Trustees) to discuss, much less agree, to a process ... without the participation and approval of the majority of the Board of Trustees in a posted meeting.”

“It’s a transparency issue,” Stahl said in a phone interview on May 30. “It is a violation of the intent of the Sunshine Law.”

According to the emails, board members Jen Stark, Val Truelsen and Wheelus discussed what questions should be asked of the applicants at the May 29 workshop meeting.

In a May 28 email to Wheelus and Stahl, Stark stated she was working with Truelsen on a set of questions and scoring system for the candidates. Wheelus responded with suggested questions, such as asking the candidates about their experience and motivation for seeking the position.

Since, according to the emails, three board members participated in the discussion, it was a violation of the Sunshine Laws, said Ashley Kissinger, a media attorney with the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.

“There is no question it constitutes a meeting,” she said. “Town boards need to be careful to not email each other about public business, and wait to discuss issues at regular posted meetings.”

“It won’t happen again,” Wheelus said on May 1.

Wheelus added that he, Stark and Truelsen mistakenly thought they were doing the right thing by “improving the interview process.”

Seeking and hiring a town manager will be discussed at the next board meeting, on June 11, Wheelus said.

At the May 29 board workshop, candidate interviews for the town attorney and a planning and zoning position were held in public. Two audience members sat through the two-hour process.

Stahl’s resignation came just hours earlier, and each candidate was informed of it.

The town board interviewed three candidates for town attorney – Dave Lieberman, Jon Kelly and Paul Kosnik. For the open seat on the planning and zoning board, interviews were conducted with candidates James Neel, Jerry Whiting and Chris Holkestad.

The board expects to decide on the appointments at the regular town board meeting on June 11.