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Paonia board looking for Brunner's replacement

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The Town of Paonia will accept letters of interest from members of the public interested in serving on the board through next April after Trustee Bill Brunner resigned. Letters should be submitted by July 20. Per town ordinance, applicants must be registered voters and have been a resident living within town limits for the past 12 consecutive months. The board has until Aug. 13 to make an appointment or call for an election.

Brunner was elected to serve until April 2020, but the appointed trustee will serve until the next municipal election in April 2018, per town code. In the past, said Mayor Charles Stewart, vacancies have been filled by appointment rather than special election. While he saw no need for an election, he said the appointment should result in "a board that functions better than how they have functioned. Doesn't mean they can't disagree with each other. But it is imperative they understand they are part of the board and have to work with the board."

The solicitation was approved at a June 13 special meeting originally called to discuss sanctions against Brunner regarding a series of emails he released to the media on May 9. The board had previously directed town attorney Bo Nerlin to review the emails and a letter to the editor written by Brunner and published May 14 in the DCI. Nerlin was directed to "determine whether the actions violated Colorado Open Meetings Law (OML)," and whether Brunner's statements violated Colorado statutes, town ordinances or rules, or the board's recently adopted Code of Standards and Conduct.

"The issue of imposing sanctions is now moot, because Trustee Brunner resigned June 14," said Mayor Stewart. Due to the resignation the written opinion was put on hold until the board could give Nerlin further direction.

Over the past few months Brunner has made several allegations against the mayor and trustees Bill Bear and David Bradford. Stewart addressed each allegation separately and stated each was false. Among Brunner's allegations, said Stewart, he contends that negotiations on an agreement between the town and Hawks Haven Subdivision were carried out by the three officials while excluding the other trustees.

In a five-page memo to the board and dated May 23, Nerlin wrote that in reviewing the emails he found no OML violations occurred, as they "likely did not constitute a discussion."

In reviewing the unauthorized distribution of emails, "Of concern is the fact that the information contained in two of the emails deals with a matter that is protected and not subject to disclosure, absent approval from the board," wrote Nerlin. In a July 2016 email from Brunner to the board and town clerk, Brunner requested that a letter he wrote be delivered to the board. "This letter highlights serious allegations of misconduct" by a former town administrator, wrote Nerlin.

Another July 2016 email "alleges that (former) town attorney (David Marek), the Town Administrator and the Mayor are violating the law."

In addition, said Stewart, "This is not the first time Mr. Brunner made defamatory statements directed at me, and at the board." He then lodged accusations at Brunner, blaming him for the resignations of former town managers Dan Dean and Jane Berry and attorney David Marek. "And I can tell you that this town has lost a number of good people because they got very tired of Mr. Brunner."

Trustee David Bradford motioned that the "privilege of executive discussion" regarding an April 11 executive session be waived and the discussion allowed as the board works "to extricate itself from the web of deceit and misinformation that has been spun by Trustee Brunner... Let us bring forward the actual facts."

Bradford called Brunner's accusations "crazy" and said they "constitute slander and libel" and the "antics" have cost the board considerable time and prevented it from addressing more important issues including the effects of vacation rentals (airbnb) on local lodging companies, and whether food trucks operating in town are properly licensed and operating within zoning and other ordinances.

By a 4-1 vote the board directed Nerlin to continue with his report. Trustee Karen Budinger cast the nay vote. She told the DCI that board members had their say at the special meeting, and that continuing to "hash things out" is a waste of time and money that can be spent on addressing other issues, including those raised by Trustee Bradford.

Nerlin is expected to present his findings to the board at the July 11 meeting.

The meeting ended with an executive session to discuss a personnel matter as requested by town administrator Ken Knight. Upon returning to the meeting, no action was taken.

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