Official gets six months of severance pay

Sentinel's records request yields single county email

Chantal Unfug

Former Mesa County Administrator Chantal Unfug received a severance package equal to six months of her pay—or $62,500, based on her $125,000 yearly salary—when commissioners sought her resignation earlier this month.

In response to an Open Records Act request seeking a specific amount that Unfug received in severance from the county, County Attorney Lyle Dechant directed The Daily Sentinel to Unfug’s employment contract, which specifies the six-month figure if “the Board desires to terminate (the contract) and Unfug’s services” suddenly.

The board announced Jan. 22 it had reached a “mutual agreement” with Unfug that she would resign.

Dechant cited privacy laws — specific to Unfug’s benefits, withholding, vacation and sick day accrual and insurance — as the reason for not providing an exact figure.

He did confirm that the county “did not have a separate severance agreement with her.”

“We had the contract, the board determined to implement the contract, and that was the severance,” Dechant said.

In its Open Records request, the Sentinel also asked for any email traffic among Unfug and the three county commissioners — newcomers Rose Pugliese and John Justman were sworn into office on Jan. 8, Steve Acquafresca has served since 2007 — regarding “the relationship between the administrator and the board of commissioners, Unfug’s job performance, and Unfug’s employment status.”

The county provided one email—sent by Pugliese to Unfug with Justman copied—regarding the county Workforce Center.

“I thought we decided that our first step was to have a CONFIDENTIAL conversation with the Board and Lyle before moving forward or letting anyone else in on the discussion,” Pugliese wrote.

“How did Donna get involved and why am I getting emails about this?” the message further reads.

Donna Ross is the county regional services director, and presumably the person to whom Pugliese is referring.

Pugliese sent the email Jan. 11, three days after her first day on the job.

As Dechant explained, Open Records requests are routed through the attorney’s office, and he or a member of his staff often handle easily located records.

Most times, department-specific requests not as easily collected are forwarded to officials in those departments for response.

The Sentinel’s Open Records request for the emails was forwarded to the three county commissioners and their two support staff members, with the implication that they are responsible for reviewing their email accounts and determining whether there are any messages that meet the request, and thus should be turned over.

Dechant said Tuesday that “it appears that” the two support staff members did not, in fact, have access to commissioners’ emails in this case.

In essence, the three commissioners themselves were solely responsible for turning over messages that they personally deemed relevant to the request.


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