The Cortez Area Chamber of Commerce’s new executive director will look to hit the ground running in order to stabilize and rebuild an organization designed to be a crucial liaison for the local business community.
Colton Black, who lives in Hesperus, has long been an active member of the Four Corners business and finance community. He most recently worked as a lender for Dolores State Bank in Cortez and was voted onto the chamber’s board in February 2020. He has been supported by chamber officials in Cortez and Durango.
“Colton has had some really good ideas, and he’s just been really helpful,” said chamber board Chairperson Darrin Dennison.
Black takes the reins after the coronavirus pandemic brought turnover at key positions in the chamber and will assume the leadership with a couple of battle scars of his own, gained during a losing campaign for La Plata County treasurer in 2018.
Two Cortez chamber board members resigned last year. Previous executive director Raquel Moss was let go because of financial troubles created by COVID-19.
According to board member Bridgett Jabour, the chamber hopes to bring on at least two to three new board members. Black and the board will be responsible for building a strategic vision for the future.
For Black, that vision involves turning the chamber into “a robust resource and business connector.” He believes his experiences as a lender have allowed him to build a mental database of available resources that many business owners do not know are available to them.
“I want the Chamber to be somewhere people can come and say, ‘Hey, my business is struggling with X what do you suggest?’ and I can be like, ‘Yeah, here is some info that can help, or let me introduce you to so-and-so who specialize in that or who just dealt with something similar,’” Black wrote in an email to The Journal.
Jabour, who joined the board in October 2019 and is an executive assistant at Southwest Health System, said it was important that the board reexamine its long-term model for supporting the development and growth of local businesses. Key goals include meeting regularly with community business leaders, facilitating collaborative opportunities and advocating for chamber members in local regional and state conversations.
Neither Jabour nor Dennison said they knew details about Black’s termination and allegations of improper business conduct at Wells Fargo in Durango, which became public after he ran a close race as a Republican for La Plata County treasurer in 2018. He lost by a slim margin to incumbent Allison Aichele.
Jabour and Dennison stood by their decision to support Black.
Black said he believes his Republican credentials and a biased perception from The Durango Herald, which endorsed him in the 2018 election, led to his firing.
His five-year stint for the company ended after allegations that Black said were taken out of context and politically motivated.
The allegations were reported on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure database, which offers information about investment advisers.
No customer financial harm was identified in the investigation, the report said.
The allegations occurred while Black worked for Wells Fargo, a tenure that lasted from August 2013 to November 2018.
The report states “registered banker was discharged after being questioned during bank investigation about allegations that he improperly accessed customer bank accounts in February and March of 2018, improperly recorded his work time, and improperly used corporate email system to send personal emails. This activity was not related to the securities business of Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC.”
It said Black was terminated Nov. 19, 2018.
The race for county treasurer was decided Nov. 13.
“Despite still strong support from my local management and co-workers the contention from the campaign created enough friction up the chain into corporate Wells Fargo that they felt they needed to intervene of which they had two options: step up and defend me, or cut me loose,” Black said in a written statement to The Journal.
He also wrote that the only customer bank account he accessed was his own.
“Although technically against bank policy, it was not uncommon for employees to use the internal system to look up info on their own accounts as it was never enforced, since the system had safeguards in place to prevent you from changing or altering any of the info,” Black wrote. “The access was more out of convenience rather than anything nefarious, and what I find even more interesting about this one is that they put that it happened in February and March yet I wasn’t terminated until November.”
Black denied any instance of improperly recording his work time during his campaign.
“All campaign events were coordinated with my local branch manager to ensure I was scheduled off, working Saturdays allowed for schedule flexibility during the week,” Black wrote in an email.
Black acknowledged that he could have kept his campaign and corporate email correspondence separate.
“This one I can’t really say isn’t true because it is, but again I wasn’t the only one and it wasn’t uncommon,” Black wrote. “Due to the bank firewall, you don’t have access to any outside email accounts so it wasn’t unusual to use your bank email for things that weren’t work related. I tried to do a better job of separating the two during my campaign but probably could have done better.”
Chamber board members and other business leaders who have interacted with Black stand by his reputation for a strong work ethic and an ability to follow through on objectives.
“He has a great reputation with the community,” Dennison said.
“I think he’s a hard worker, and he’s really sharp,” former state Rep. J. Paul Brown said.
Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce, said Black has the skills necessary to make an impact in Cortez.
“I think he’ll be an added asset to what you’re looking for in the Cortez market,” Llewellyn said. “I think he’ll be able to help rebuild the chamber over there.”
Jabour said her experience with Black at the chamber convinced her that he would be well-suited for the director role.
“I found him to be smart, intuitive and dynamic,” Jabour said. “He has a great business mind. He really understands economics, especially in rural areas.”
The Journal was unable to verify some of Black’s credentials. When asked about his education, Black referred The Journal to his LinkedIn profile.
Under the “education” portion of his profile is Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, and “Business Administration and Management, General.”
After two emails and a phone message with Black, The Journal was unable to verify whether he earned a degree there.
According to the university registrar’s office, a Colton B. Black, born in 1984, earned an EMS certificate from there in 2004. He returned to the university in 2012 and took some general education classes that might have involved business classes, but he did not earn a degree.