Dechant exit to cost Mesa County $32,000
It will cost taxpayers more than $30,000 to say goodbye to Mesa County Attorney Lyle Dechant.
Dechant, who has served as the county’s attorney for more than 30 years, delivered a resignation letter addressed to Board of Mesa County Commissioners Chairman John Justman last Wednesday. Commissioners voted 2-1 Monday morning to accept his resignation with a list of caveats and begin a search for his replacement.
Dechant’s employment contract allows for commissioners to pay him three months of salary, “In the event Dechant’s services are terminated by the Board prior to expiration of the initial term of this Agreement.” The contract also requires the county to pay Dechant the equivalent of three months of medical insurance benefits, wages equal to what he would get for any paid time off he has left, and money he would have gotten for three more months of participation in a retirement fund program where the county matches 3 percent of an employee’s salary.
Those items, minus paid leave estimates, will cost $31,923.76, according to Dechant’s resignation letter. Dechant’s employment contract allows the board to avoid paying him three months of severance if he voluntarily resigns, is disbarred or is convicted of a crime.
Commissioner Rose Pugliese said board members discussed the possibility of retirement with Dechant “but ultimately the decision was his.”
Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who cast the lone dissenting vote to accept Dechant’s resignation, said Dechant had mentioned retirement to him as a possibility “in the next few years” but not this soon. Dechant’s last day at the county will be Feb. 14. Acquafresca is concerned the county will have a short time to prepare for Dechant’s departure.
“I don’t think that it was our county attorney’s first choice to retire this month,” Acquafresca said, adding, “It was made pretty clear to him by a majority of the board that he was going to be dismissed so he offered his retirement resignation.”
Acquafresca said he voted no Monday because he believes losing Dechant “will ultimately be costly to Mesa County in terms of financial cost and not having the benefit of the legal advice that I’m so accustomed to on so many complex Mesa County issues.” Pugliese disagreed, noting the county spent $85,292.59 on outsourced attorney fees in 2013. She said she does not know if the county would save money by outsourcing more legal service and having a smaller county attorney’s office staff or by doing less outsourcing and having more staff responsibility, but she wants the next county attorney to be willing to explore those possibilities.
“When you run your office for 30 years, you run it in a certain way. There are probably many options for how to run the office,” Pugliese said.
Pugliese said she also wants the next county attorney to have experience in western states issues and an interest in transparency. She said a lack of clear records about some county decisions, including the decision to withhold building department funds from TABOR refund eligibility, are something she would like to avoid in the future.
Justman said he wants a candidate to have a broad knowledge of county and other legal issues. He added he wanted to thank Dechant for his years of service.
“I think he’s done a good job all these years,” Justman said.
Commissioners will meet at 1:30 this afternoon to discuss where and how they search for county attorney candidates.