The top two employees in the Road and Bridge Department have left Routt County government just as the busy summer season of road projects gets under way. County officials say they are taking steps to ensure construction of a $1.2 million traffic roundabout near the state’s largest coal mine, installation of a pair of new bridges in California Park and routine chip-and-seal and magnesium chloride chores continue to move forward.
Assistant Road and Bridge Director Paul Draper was “released from his duties,” County Commission Chairman Doug Monger confirmed Monday. The county commissioners declined to discuss the reason for Draper’s termination.
Coincidentally, senior road engineer Heather McLaughlin turned in her resignation May 22 and has since become the project engineer for Colorado with Quicksilver Resources, which actively is looking for oil in Routt and Moffat counties.
Draper was the county Road and Bridge director until April 30, when he accepted a demotion to the newly created position of assistant Road and Bridge director, with County Manager Tom Sullivan assuming the duties of director until a new director could be hired. That position has been advertised and the deadline for submitting resumes is Friday.
County Personnel Director Chris Hensen said a replacement for the new position of assistant director for Road and Bridge, which includes engineering qualifications in the job description, will be sought to fill the opening created by McLaughlin’s departure.
It was Sullivan, as his supervisor, who initiated Draper’s dismissal, but the former Road and Bridge director has an avenue for appealing the termination of his role at the county. The commissioners confirmed Monday that Draper already has filed a grievance in writing.
Draper said part of his motivation for pursuing the grievance is to get to a conversation about his status with the county commissioners.
“I’ve had a great tenure if this really is the end,” Draper said Monday. “I did have a fabulous run.”
Hensen is obligated to schedule a grievance hearing within 15 days of its filing. She said that as of Monday the date for Draper’s hearing has not been set.
Plan of work goes forward
In the meantime, Sullivan said the local engineering companies that designed the traffic roundabout near Twentymile Coal Mine and the bridges in California Park have been retained to oversee the respective construction processes. The county already has had discussions about using consultants in similar roles when outside projects that are hard to budget for come up.
Monger emphasized that county officials are committed to keeping the work of the Road and Bridge Department on track during the transition phase.
“We have to go forward,” Monger said. “We still have to provide services out there.”
Sullivan said he has met with the employees of the Road and Bridge Department. Field coordinator Tammie Crawford is taking on greater responsibility during the interim, as are foremen in the department. And Sullivan is diving into the 2013 budget process for what is the biggest department in the county when the dollars committed to capital projects and heavy equipment are considered.
Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said the grievance process being afforded to Draper is not a “special process,” but a long-established provision in the county’s personnel manual.
County personnel policy allows almost all of its employees to file a grievance about any disciplinary action taken against them that results in a loss of pay, including dismissal, demotion or a suspension. However, the policy does not allow employees to grieve a county policy adopted by the commissioners, nor can they file a grievance about decisions made in connection with reductions in force.
County employees who many not file a grievance about a disciplinary action include the county manager, the county attorney, the undersheriff, Sheriff’s Office deputies, the chief deputy clerk and recorder, deputy coroners and chief deputy treasurer. All appointed department heads other than the county attorney have the right to file a grievance.
Draper’s grievance will be heard by a board consisting of one county employee of his choice (but not from his department), one chosen by Sullivan and one chosen by the county commissioners.
Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said the grievance board would be expected to make a recommendation of whether to uphold, amend or take away Draper’s dismissal.
The grievance board is charged with evaluating the evidence it hears during a hearing. The personnel manual specifies that it is not a public hearing.
In the case that the board determines by a majority vote that the employee’s grievance should be sustained, that decision may include remedies such as reinstatement and back pay.
Should the board not find in Draper’s favor, he still would have the right to appeal that decision to the county commissioners.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com