Emails: Unfug was blindsided by commission
An analysis of thousands of pages of emails Mesa County commissioners exchanged leading up to the sudden firing of County Administrator Chantal Unfug in January reveals at least two notions — current commissioners have little communication among each other via their county email accounts, and Unfug seemed genuinely unaware that she was about to be asked to resign, based on her correspondence.
The county announced a “mutual agreement” on Unfug’s resignation late in the day on Jan. 22, a year and a half after Unfug started her job.
New commissioners Rose Pugliese and John Justman had been sworn in just two weeks earlier. They, along with continuing Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, made the decision to ask Unfug to resign at a meeting held on Jan. 18.
A Daily Sentinel analysis of the emails sent and received by Unfug and the three commissioners between the dates of Jan. 8 and Jan. 22 — received via a Colorado Open Records Act request filed with the Mesa County Attorney’s Office — showed that there was no discussion among commissioners about either the Jan. 18 meeting or the Jan. 22 firing, nor was there any discussion about Unfug’s status generally via email.
A look at Unfug’s emails over that time period, however, shows a certain level of business as usual leading right up to the date of her termination.
For example, a Jan. 14 email sent by Unfug to all three commissioners laid out in great specificity her goals for the coming year. Among the highlights was a goal for Unfug to “develop my personal ‘brand’ for employee recognition and appreciation.”
Unfug also set a goal to “create long-lasting, measurable Strategic Planning process,” and to “drive and facilitate the BOCC vision.”
None of the three commissioners made direct replies to Unfug regarding her 2013 goals, it seems, based on a lack of any record within the emails.
The next day, Jan. 15, Unfug sent an email to all three commissioners commending them on the job they were doing thus far.
“You are doing a superb job and I am already hearing very positive feedback from employees, so I think you are all on the right track,” Unfug wrote.
In fact, Unfug’s emails are fairly unremarkable all through the week before being asked to resign, with her handling many of the daily duties of the job without hint that she would be fired within days.
Most notably perhaps, she traded emails with an official from a local nonprofit organization to discuss a long-term issue just one day before commissioners ask her to resign.
“I am going to ask for volunteers in about 3 weeks or so when I have a meeting with all of the department directors,” Unfug wrote on Jan. 21. “Put a tickler in your calendar to remidn (sic) if you don’t hear from us by mid-feb.”
It’s clear that a conversation that led to her resignation happened the next morning.
At 9:50 a.m. on the day of her dismissal, Unfug wrote an email to county administrative assistant Victoria Patsantaras: “I had to go home, but will call you in a few hours. Please don,t mention this to anyone yet.”
Patsantaras replied a little more than an hour later, writing: “I’ve just been updated. Im (sic) sorry. Will be able to have you ‘out on other business’ through end of day. Until … “
About an hour later, Unfug sent Human Resources Manager Sandy Perry an email, blank except for a phone number, with the subject line “Call me.”
Twenty minutes later she sent a similar message to Finance Director Marcia Arnhold with the subject line, “We need to talk.”
Later that afternoon, Unfug got back in touch with Patsantaras to arrange a time to collect her personal belongings and turn in her county-issued equipment.
The email trail, and limited open meeting time dedicated to the discussion about whether to keep Unfug in the job, leaves little clarity about how or why the decision was made to ask her to resign.
Commissioners made various remarks about “change being hard” and “trying to figure out the direction” the board wants to go on the day Unfug was asked to resign.
The Sentinel also has raised issues about the manner in which the board chose to publicly notice the key Jan. 18 meeting in which the decision was allegedly made to ask Unfug to resign, based on the state’s Open Meetings law.
An email outgoing Commissioner Janet Rowland wrote as a farewell to county employees suggests commissioners are keenly aware — or coached — about the written record they leave behind.
In one section, she wrote: “Craig (Meis) and I have both said we regretted not keeping a journal of our time in office ... though I know (County Attorney) Lyle (Dechant) is relieved we have no written record. :)”