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Paonia board to consider actions against trustee

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At its Nov. 14 meeting, the Town of Paonia Board of Trustees will consider possible actions against trustee Suzanne Watson after town administrator Ken Knight and four town employees signed a letter of complaint against her.

Finance and personnel committee members Karen Budinger and Chelsea Bookout investigated the complaints and presented their findings at the Oct. 24 meeting. Dated Sept. 6 and presented to the board on Sept. 12, the complaint letter makes three accusations against Watson dating back to June.

The first accuses Watson of making public statements about town clerk Corinne Ferguson and Knight for misuse of town resources and work time for personal use. A statement made at a board meeting about wanting to use the "town taxi" was in response to Ferguson driving Knight to a doctor's appointment in Grand Junction during working hours. Ferguson stated she dovetailed the trip with other town duties; Knight calls the accusation "false and defamatory."

In presenting committee findings, Bookout said that Watson's public comment did not include accusations of misuse of town time or equipment and could have been taken out of context. Whether she spoke about it in public following the meeting is unknown, said Bookout. The committee recommended that the town more clearly define personal time off in its revisions of the employee handbook.

Regarding a statement in a letter from Watson to the town attorney that building inspector Dave Coleman is 'compromised," Watson offered no support for the claim, said Bookout. The committee and Watson questioned why the letter, a private matter from a citizen to the town attorney, was made public. The committee made no recommendation on that complaint.

The third allegation accuses Watson of telling town auditors that the public works director was filling his vehicle with company fuel and the town finance director was covering for him. The rumor, said Bookout, was spread around town and ended up on social media. Both employees "have vehemently denied the charges and have requested an investigation to clear their names." There was no evidence presented to connect social media comments to Watson.

"This matter has cost the town money and resources and called into question the reputations of town employees," said Bookout. Had Watson followed the appropriate chain of command and approached the town administrator about the matter, "This matter could have been cleared up much earlier." The committee recommended a revision of the employee handbook on grievance procedures.

In addition, "Due to the duration and seriousness of this matter, we feel a public warning for Trustee Watson is recommended."

Watson said she made no claims of theft or collusion against anyone and was requesting advice from the auditor about how to best track usage of the town's gas tanks. She also believed her communication was private.

Because there is no written record, the matter with the auditor "is hearsay," said Watson, and should not have been an issue. "I have no idea how a personal conversation like this could be taken back to management and then made completely public to where we're talking about slanderous accusations" against employees.

Watson questioned the details of the investigation and told the DCI that she was unaware she was the subject of a complaint or pending investigation until reading that an executive session would be held to discuss the letter of complaint on the Sept. 12 meeting agenda.

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