Paonia administrator threatens lawsuit

Kenneth Knight

The Paonia board trustees held a special meeting July 30 to discuss the recent harassment complaint filed against town administrator Ken Knight, and public comments made by Knight and others at the July 23 board meeting.

The meeting agenda lists two executive session items: the first to receive legal advice specific to a possible investigation of the town administrator and on his employment contract, and the second to discuss a personnel matter involving the citizen complaint lodged against him.

Executive sessions are not open to the public. Under state open meetings law, also known as "Colorado Sunshine Law," local public bodies can receive legal advice on specific legal questions and discuss personnel matters of town employees in executive session.

As reported on July 24 by the DCI, on the evening of July 19, Knight confronted Christina Patterson on Clock Road just west of Paonia over a letter she and 15 other neighbors presented to Delta County Commissioner Mark Roeber at a July 2 commissioners meeting.

The signers expressed opposition to efforts by the town to annex Price and Clock roads where they live and concern that Knight, who led discussions on the annexation, did not disclose that he owns a home at the intersection of Price and Clock roads "until prompted by a citizen."

"We are concerned about Mr. Knight's working relationship with the developer of the [proposed] Riverbank Subdivision, which would use Price Road as its main access road. We feel that in both of these cases, he has a conflict of interest that should be investigated."

In a prepared statement, Patterson told the board on July 23 that she encountered Knight outside her home. "I said hello, and he immediately began addressing me in a loud, angry, aggressive and menacing manner," said Patterson. A rare encounter, Patterson said she "was taken aback by this response, to put it mildly.

"As the minutes passed his voice transformed from yelling into screaming," she said. "He screamed that I had ruined his reputation, that I was a liar, and that I do not understand how city government works. This went on for a few good minutes. All the while he was aggressively pointing his finger at me and entering very close into my personal space."

Patterson said she was alone, and husband Barry Smith was out of town. "I was hoping someone would be outside in their door to hear his screaming, and that if I had to scream for assistance I would be heard," she said.

Patterson said she "felt extremely uncomfortable and threatened." She said she told him, "Good night, Ken," turned and walked toward her truck when Knight "screamed at me, 'I hope you get in an accident and f---ing die."

After reporting the incident Patterson said she stayed with neighbors because she "felt unsafe." She called Knight's conduct "utterly unacceptable," and a "liability to both the trustees and the town of Paonia."

Smith said the Clock Road incident "was not a neighborhood squabble over barking dogs or bright lights or partying. This was specifically in retribution for our participation in local government." He reminded the board of "the words he screamed at my wife as she was trying to remove herself from the situation... I can't imagine any situation or encounter where this is an appropriate thing for our town administrator, or anyone, to scream at anybody, let alone my five-foot-four wife, who was standing in the street alone in front of her own property."

Smith said he and Patterson have attended numerous meetings in recent months to gain a better understanding of what was happening in and around their neighborhood. One concern, he said, is the proposed Riverbank Subdivision," which could include close to 60 homes. It was at a meeting, he said, that the neighborhood learned their roads were slated for annexation.

Smith said that in "thinly-veiled" comments, Knight has suggested they are liars and are libelous "while standing at this podium. In both cases, all we did was ask questions about development. Isn't that the purpose of this space..."

Smith said he's witnessed other "inappropriate behavior" from Knight during meetings. When trustees attempt to call attention out the behavior, "They're quickly shut down by the mayor."

Smith said Knight has made it "very clear about his feelings about my wife because of her participation. Mr. Mayor, should you and the trustees continue to turn a blind eye to Mr. Knight's harassment and intimidation of citizens, both in and outside of public meetings. I have to assume that you are in agreement with Mr. Knight's sentiments."

Despite an urging by Mayor Charles Stewart that he not speak, Knight approached the podium. "I am a member of the public, sir," said Knight.

"You are an employee of this town," said Stewart.

"And as such, sir," said Knight, "this was not an item that happened inside the town limits, nor did it happen during normal business hours."

Knight said the letter implies he had been "self-dealing with the developer in this town... that I am receiving benefits from somebody that I am talking to as a developer." He called it "an insult and a direct attack" on his reputation.

Addressing Stewart, Knight insisted 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."

"Those people who signed that letter are liars," said Knight."I have never benefited from talking to a developer... If you try to make it town business then we're going to have an issue."

Stewart said that Tuesday night's meeting was not the time to debate the issue. "Obviously we're not going to make a determination of facts," said Stewart, a practicing attorney. "Obviously there may very well be another side to this story." Any action the board takes would be taken "based upon all the facts and after due deliberation."

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