In a July 29 special meeting, the Paonia board of trustees needed only one of two executive sessions listed on the agenda before taking swift action against town administrator Ken Knight.
Following the executive session, called to receive legal advice from town attorney Bo Nerlin regarding his employment contract, trustees voted unanimously to place Knight on paid administrative leave, effective immediately.
In a second motion the board instructed Nerlin to negotiate with Knight a separation agreement, and to pursue any and all available avenues under his contract to reach an agreement, including termination.
The third motion was to obtain information concerning personnel issues involving Knight.
Mayor Charles Stewart said the administrative leave means Knight will not report to work, but will be paid until termination of his contract, which will happen either by a separation agreement or termination. Stewart declined to comment on the personnel matter.
The moves came after Knight was accused of verbally accosting a citizen the evening of July 19. In an interview with a Delta County Sheriff's deputy the evening of the July 19 incident, Knight admitted to telling the citizen he wished she would roll her truck over and die, and offered no apologies.
At the July 23 regular board meeting, Knight addressed the board as a citizen, insisting the incident had "nothing to do with my employment with this town, and if you attempt to make it that is has something to do with my employment with this town, we will be talking lawyer to lawyer. This is not an action that I took as a public, as your public employee; this is an action that I took as a neighbor."
Knight was appointed town administrator in January 2017. He is the fifth town manager appointed by the board since June 2014 when Steve Rabe was appointed interim town manager. Prior to that, the last administrator Paonia had was in 2008. Sometime between 2008-2012 an embezzlement scheme cost the town and taxpayers between approximately $480,000-$647,000. The town recovered approximately $150,000 of the funds from insurance, tax refunds it intercepted, and the employee's final paycheck.
In October 2014, after Rabe accepted a position in another town, Jane Berry was appointed town manager. Berry oversaw post-embezzlement restructuring and recovery for the town, helped put accounting control measures in place to prevent future theft, passed a balanced budget, and oversaw a $5.5 million water delivery system project.
Berry resigned Aug. 3, 2016.
The town then appointed Dan Dean as interim manager. Dean was the top choice for the town administrator's job, but after about four months on the job, Dean accepted a position in Nebraska. Shortly after, Knight was appointed administrator.
In a July email to the DCI, the Town of Paonia and town trustees, former board member Dave Weber compiled information from a newspaper, council minutes and a news broadcast regarding three former employees.
From the city of Flatonia, Texas, council minutes of March 8 ,2011:
"Councilmember Wilks stated that there were two points that she wanted to bring to Mr. Knight's attention.The first point has to do with Mr. Knight's loss of composure in stressful situations, including situations with citizens as well as council members, which she considered unprofessional. She went on to state that maintaining control in interactions is imperative and that Mr. Knight should refrain from outbursts with citizens and council members and that calmness, confidence and an attentive ear to the issue would be more conducive to resolution rather raising one's voice in disagreement. Ms.Wilks stated that Mr. Knight needs to show more restraint in discussing heated topics. Ms. Wilks asked Mr. Knight what his response about her comments was or whether he thought that her comments were unfounded. Mr. Knight responded that the point was taken."
From the Victoria Advocate in Edna, Texas: "Edna City Manager Ken Knight's contract was terminated Thursday during a City Council meeting. Knight had just presented the city budget to the council, which went into executive session for his review before the decision was made, District 1 Councilman Richard Browning said Sunday. "His performance was unacceptable," Browning said.
And from KWTX 10 News in Waco, Texas, where Knight worked before coming to Paonia. "A routine Marlin City Council meeting this week ended abruptly after tempers flared. Between the yelling and name calling it was apparent that certain council members and the city manager disagree on certain topics.
It all started when Councilwoman Billie Scaggs raised an issue about the drainage in her precinct.
"Give us some kind of relief to let the water go where it needs to go," Scaggs can be heard saying on an audio tape of the meeting.
That led to a heated exchange of accusations about discrimination.
"You go sit down," Scaggs said to City Manager, Ken Knight.
"Don't you dare call me a racist," Knight said.
"I demand an apology."
"I don't have to give you nothing," Scaggs said.
Mayor Pro Tem Scott Henderson then questioned a meeting that was arranged either by Marlin Mayor Elizabeth Nelson or Knight that involved a discussion about the city's water plant, which failed last fall, leaving residents without service for a week."