Grand Junction census office loses leader

Setback comes as workers are sickened by pot odors

Two weeks before the national head count for the U.S. Census, the Grand Junction office is without a permanent head.

Employees also are being encouraged to see physicians should they feel any ill effects from noxious fumes that leaked into the Census Bureau office last week.

Still, the Census Bureau says it’s ready to start the count on the Western Slope as scheduled on April 1.

“We are absolutely concerned about the health and safety of our employees and absolutely on track” with the count, census spokeswoman Deborah A. Cameron said Tuesday.

Census workers last week reported they were sickened when a foul odor passed through the ventilation system of their office in a building at 573 W. Crete Circle.

When Grand Junction police executed a search warrant on March 9, they found a medical-marijuana-growing operation in a part of the building that shared the ventilation system with the census office.

Operations at the census office, from which 60 employees work most of the time, were not compromised, Cameron said.

Census workers are now in the “update-leave” phase of the count, meaning that about 1,000 employees are in the process of visiting residences in rural areas and resort towns, updating people about the census and leaving forms on doorsteps, Cameron said.

The census office was headed by Randall Copeland, who complained about the odors and was removed as temporary head of the office.

Copeland remained with the census office, Cameron said.

He was the temporary replacement for Bill Hugenberg, who was terminated after opening the office last year. Hugenberg maintains he was wrongfully terminated.

The office has about 1,000 workers who will cover 20 counties on the Western Slope, Cameron said.

Most of those people won’t work in the Grand Junction office, and those who do were offered “a liberal time-off policy” to see physicians and to seek benefits under the state workers’ compensation system.

The Census Bureau also purchased and distributed N95 respirator masks intended to protect them against small particulates, Cameron said.

Employees at the census office on Tuesday were not willing to comment. No one behind a security window could be seen wearing the N95 masks.


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