Martin: ‘Personality conflicts’ led to county departures
The recent departure of two top-level Garfield County employees who fall under the direct oversight of the Board of County Commissioners boiled down to “personality conflicts,” according to the board’s longtime chairman, 18-year County Commissioner John Martin.
“We are a growing family, and we had some problems starting to develop that we didn’t want to escalate,” Martin said following a “mutual separation” agreement signed last week between the commissioners and now-former County Manager Andrew Gorgey.
The agreement ended Gorgey’s four-year tenure with the county, first as county attorney from mid-2011 to 2012, and for an interim period as both legal counsel and acting county manager, before he was named full-time county manager in June 2012.
The separation deal included a six-month, $75,000 severance and continued retirement and health benefits for that period of time.
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Gorgey’s departure came on the heels of the abrupt May 1 retirement of former County Attorney Frank Hutfless, who had been in that position since August 2012.
His retirement came with a three-month, $37,500 severance, suggesting that it, too, was a mutual agreement with the commissioners rather than a simple decision to retire.
Martin, who was a strong supporter of Hutfless and praised his legal work on public lands issues, indicated that some of the same personality conflicts between both county staff and the commissioners came into play with that decision as well.
“Everyone was disappointed that they left,” Martin said of both Hutfless and Gorgey’s decisions. “We have to look forward to what’s best for everyone … and we did not want this to get out of control.”
Gorgey last week said he realized in deciding to part ways with the county that his employee/employer relationship was changing.
In a follow-up interview Tuesday, he concurred with Martin’s assertion that personality conflicts were at play.
“Managing personalities is part of every employer/employee relationship, and it’s particularly important that you stay on top of that,” said Gorgey, who himself oversaw a large group of county department heads and managerial staffers, several of whom he hired.
“I do my best to base all of my decisions on the same principles that I manage around,” Gorgey said of his decision to part ways with the county in a mutual fashion rather than letting any conflicts continue to fester.
County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he was deeply disappointed to see Gorgey go, and in accepting the separation agreement last week read a long list of accomplishments for the county over the last four years that he credited Gorgey with pushing forward.
“I was really disappointed,” Jankovsky said. “The way it went, I would call it hubris. There is extreme pride on both sides.”
Jankovsky was quick to point out that any personality conflicts involving Gorgey were not with him.
“I do think that he, in the best interests of the county and for himself, decided to go ahead and resign,” Jankovsky said.
The same day, July 1, that the commissioners accepted the separation agreement with Gorgey, they also appointed Deputy County Manager Kevin Batchelder as acting county manager. Batchelder was hired by Gorgey as deputy manager last year.
Following Hutfless’s departure, the commissioners named Assistant County Attorney Tari Williams as deputy and acting county attorney. Gorgey had also hired Williams when he was county attorney.
Commissioners are now set to discuss the next steps going forward in terms of the two positions the board hires and county operations in general.
“We need to sit down with Kevin and re-prioritize our goals for county operations,” Martin said, adding that with a projected significant downturn in property tax revenues in 2017 he and the board would like to begin planning for that starting next year.
Martin declined to say whether that might include a push to eliminate some managerial positions in the county. He has suggested a reduction in the county’s operation budget of between 2 percent and 5 percent as soon as next year.
“We do need to talk about everything, who provides services and where are we duplicating efforts,” he said.
Jankovsky said he would prefer the county proceed with a search for a new county manager in August and have someone on board by the first of the year. If Batchelder decides in the interim that he wants to put his name in for that position, Jankovsky said he would encourage that.
“From my perspective, we need to have a strong county manager,” Jankovsky said. “The last thing I want to see is the commissioners trying to micromanage any more than they already do.”
Jankovsky agreed the next two years or more are going to be tough for county government fiscally, given the downturn in natural gas drilling and low oil and gas prices that will have an impact on the county.
“We’re just at the start of what’s going to be four years of not a lot of gas production,” Jankovsky said. “We will be slower in our cash flow as a result, but I think we will be fine as far as balancing our budget.”
Commissioners have already said that any planned capital projects in the county should be wrapped up next year, and any new projects or additions to personnel be put on hold in the years to follow.
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