EDITORIAL from the June 1, 2023 edition of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Reprinted in full, with permission. Link to original editorial is here.
This editorial explains what’s been going on with the Commissioners’ months-long, defamatory attack on Mesa County Public Health Director Jeff Kuhr.
Can the BOCC sink any lower?
“Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”
— Joseph Welch, special counsel for the U.S. Army, to Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy during hearings in 1954 on whether communism infiltrated the U.S. armed forces.
Mesa County commissioners are in the midst of a relentless campaign to remove Dr. Jeff Kuhr from his position as executive director of Mesa County Public Health.
They’ve tried every trick in the book, some a little more unseemly than others, but none as low as the character assassination they’ve planted in the public record that unfairly swipes at Kuhr’s reputation without giving him an opportunity to defend himself.
Commissioners are acting much like the disgraced Sen. McCarthy, whose role in the Army-McCarthy hearings was described as “judge, jury, prosecutor, castigator, and press agent, all in one,” by Harvard law dean Ervin Griswold.
Let us explain. Unable to force the independent public health board to fire Kuhr over procurement issues, commissioners initiated a hostile takeover of the BOH, appointing Commissioner Janet Rowland to a vacancy on the board and then signaling their intent to revoke the other appointees and install an entirely new board. The board resigned en masse, though the commissioners’ move was likely illegal.
The commissioners have since appointed three new people to the board on a temporary basis.
As the Sentinel’s Charles Ashby reported last week, those who applied to serve on the temporary panel, received a four-page “background and timeline” from commissioners. It attempts to explain why the commissioners want Kuhr fired and includes so-called evidence going back a decade or more that the District Attorney’s Office has dismissed as unprovable.
The DA’s Office said it lacked sufficient evidence to prove irregularities or errors were “done with an intent to defraud,” or that Kuhr “was personally involved in, or personally directed, any level of reporting that would make him criminally liable for material misstatements.”
The commissioners’ one-sided narrative hardly presents a complete picture of what’s happened. It looks more like an attempt to indoctrinate the new temporary board (and all applicants) with a preconceived bias against Kuhr.
Commissioners have abandoned any notion that they’re trying to be fair and impartial. But their tunnel vision is fraught with potentially painful consequences for county taxpayers.
Let’s say they succeed in stacking a new health board willing to fire Kuhr. How quickly will Kuhr’s legal team point out the violation of his rights? And how is the county going to account for the fact that it’s been the fiduciary for the alleged health department procurement problems it’s trying to pin exclusively on Kuhr?
In their haste to sack Kuhr, they’re arming him with judgment-rich evidence. Does it make sense to defame a person over allegations of malfeasance only to turn around and write him a check with a series of zeroes behind the number?
We’re not faulting commissioners for having serious concerns about how contracts were awarded by the health department. But the plan for corrective action that the former health board put together to tighten fiscal controls wasn’t good enough? The commissioners want Kuhr fired. And now that laser focus on his dismissal is exposing the county to what may be a substantial legal reckoning.
Commissioners want citizens to believe Kuhr’s action’s dealing with grant money put the county at risk of having to pay grants back and losing future state or federal funding — even though the DA can’t find evidence of criminality or intent to defraud.
It’s time for commissioners to put down their shovels and stop digging a hole for taxpayers. The massive liability they’re creating is unacceptable, especially given that the only real problem — questionable grant reporting — has been addressed.
Everything else is just scapegoating.