Former chief building officer Mark Marchus was fired on allegations that he had not created a good working environment at the Routt County Regional Building Department and that he violated county gift policies by taking stones being thrown away by a contractor, Marchus' attorney said Monday.
Those allegations, Marchus' attorney Charles Feldmann said, do not hold as reasons to fire Marchus.
"They're grasping for straws to try and find some legitimate way (to fire Marchus)," Feldmann said.
Marchus, who served as chief building officer for six years, was terminated Feb. 16. Previously, he had announced, within the span of a week, first that he would retire and then that he would stay with the department.
Feldmann has filed requests for a formal grievance hearing on Marchus' behalf and is working with the county to start the grievance process, he said.
Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan could not be reached for comment.
To the county's allegation that Marchus has not created a good working environment in the building department, Feldmann said the community support Marchus has received indicates otherwise.
"I think we will overwhelmingly demonstrate by the people who interact with the department that, in fact, it's the exact opposite," Feldmann said.
The allegation that Marchus violated county gift policies relates to a situation in which Marchus, as well as other people, took leftover stones from a trash bin at a construction site. The contractor disposing of the stones gave them to Marchus and others, Feldmann said. The county's claim does not include an allegation of bribery, he said.
The county's gift policy prohibits employees from receiving gifts that are more than $25 in value, Feldmann said. In the case in question, the stones were trash, and Marchus saved the contractor money by hauling them away, Feldmann said.
Feldmann also said he thought the county's decision to fire Marchus was connected to issues with an inspector within the building department who was "openly insubordinate to Mark's leadership." After Marchus demanded that the inspector be terminated, Feldmann said the county began Marchus' termination proceedings.
The county has hired a Denver attorney for representation in the process, Feldmann said.
The grievance procedure begins with a hearing and a decision from a three-member board chosen for the process. That decision can be appealed to the Board of County Commissioners, who make the final decision.
The county is against opening the process to the public, which Feldmann said is "suspicious and curious" when Marchus has requested that it be open.
"I don't know who they're trying to protect, other than themselves," Feldmann said.
Marchus no longer is receiving a paycheck, and his health benefits ended in February. He has opposed his termination from the beginning.
"I wouldn't be fighting so hard if I didn't think I was right," Marchus said.
Feldmann said there has been overwhelming support for Marchus from the community.
"I've got over 50 witnesses who are willing and begging to testify on Mr. Marchus' behalf," Feldmann said. Those witnesses, he said, will say that Marchus is one of the most ethical and reasonable building officials with which they have dealt.
In related news, the county on Thursday appointed Carl Dunham as interim chief building official. Dunham, who has been the assistant building official since 1994, will be given a temporary pay raise, from $33.17 to $34.09 an hour, according to a memo by Sullivan. Dunham will continue to perform his regular duties as well as those of the chief building official.
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