Commissioners renew their search for new county attorney

The search for a new Mesa County attorney is far from over following a decision by county commissioners Tuesday to hire a recruiter to search nationwide for more applicants.

The county advertised the job opening in newspapers and on attorney-centric websites in February and March and whittled a stack of 19 resumes down to five candidates in April: Patrick Coleman of Denver, Eric Gross of Carbondale, Alan Hassler of Grand Junction, Martha Whitmore of Ridgway, and Dave Frankel, Mesa County’s acting attorney for the last five months.

Commissioners interviewed candidates April 25 and had a handful of executive sessions over the last two months but never reached a decision on who to hire. At least one candidate dropped out during the wait.

The board decided to scrap results of the previous search and look nationwide for new candidates who are more experienced with specialized federal, state and local issues a county attorney regularly tackles, according to Commissioner Rose Pugliese.

“We had great applicants, we’re just looking for something very specific and we didn’t find it on the first try,” she said.

The county has been searching for an attorney since Lyle Dechant resigned Feb. 14 after more than three decades in the role. Dechant said commissioners Pugliese and John Justman told him they wanted to go in a new direction with the county attorney’s office, prompting him to submit a letter of resignation requesting three months’ worth of pay — equal to nearly $32,000 — plus wages equal to three months of medical insurance and retirement benefits and paid time off he had accrued. Dechant’s contract allowed for those provisions, “In the event (his) services are terminated.”

A target date for having a new county attorney in place has yet to be determined but the county’s goal is to have a recruiter picked by July 18 and to start considering candidate applications gathered by the recruiter by mid-September. Commissioners originally projected having a new attorney start work by May 12.

Hiring an attorney is not the only task that has taken longer than expected in recent county history. The county has discussed joining a solar array agreement with San Francisco-based company Ecoplexus since January but did not sign a subscription agreement until June 2, three months after District 51 signed onto the agreement and two months behind the city of Grand Junction. Also, an agreement with the city of Grand Junction and School District 51 for the Orchard Mesa Community Pool has been discussed since last July but a draft is currently in the hands of Grand Junction City Attorney John Shaver.


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