‘Deja Moo’ all over again? Dechant’s departure

This could have been another one of those obituary-like columns.

Lyle Dechant, for most of the 24 years I’ve known him, said, only half-jokingly, that his epitaph would read, “Shot dead in a land-use hearing.”

I’m glad that, instead, it’s a thank-you and best wishes column now that Maurice Lyle Dechant has announced his “retirement” after 31 years as Mesa County Attorney.

It’s “retirement” only if you believe he really wanted to leave.

Anyone convinced Dechant’s departure is voluntary is a prime candidate for some beachfront property out in the “Stinking Desert National Monument” between here and Delta.

His exit via a 2-1 vote, accompanied by severance pay, tells the true story, semantic niceties aside.

For more than three decades, through boom times and busts, commissioners of all stripes were the beneficiaries of both legal and sometimes personal advice from a dedicated and exceedingly competent lawyer who, over and over, earned the title “counselor.” Whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, male or female, friendly or growly, old or young, commissioners got the straight scoop.

To be certain, Dechant knew who his clients were.

A long time ago, a high- school friend who became a well-regarded attorney and later a legal educator, offered some advice on using lawyers as he helped me establish a partnership and purchase a business.

There are two ways, he suggested. The wrong way was to ask your attorney what to do. Better, he said, was to tell your lawyer what you wanted to do and ask how to get that done.

For more than three decades, whether in a suit and tie or, more often, in jeans and boots, Dechant “got it done” for legions of county commissioners and for Mesa County on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of issues.

There were many times, I’m certain, he didn’t agree with the decision he was asked to help implement or defend. That was when he’d point out the potholes in the chosen path in private but “ride for the brand” publicly.

As one of only three direct employees of the county commissioners — the others being the county administrator and the director of social services — Dechant was a loyal servant, something that occasionally angered members of the public who thought he ought to be representing them.

He accepted that his role was not to make policy but to make certain the “T’s” were crossed and the “I’s” were dotted. The final, and perhaps most telling, example of that was acceding to the wishes of Commissioners Rose Pugliese and John Justman and, at their direction, crafting the language of his own departure from a job he loved.

Pugliese and Justman had every right to decide to go another direction and/or investigate other options for getting the county’s legal work done.

These sorts of positions at the top of the “at will” food chain in local governments are not normally as long-lasting as Dechant’s tenure. Also, dealing with budget travails and, to put it mildly, an “interesting” run of recent county commissioners, may have not brought the joy that his cattle, dogs and horses bring.

But couple Dechant’s departure with the quick and even less-explained dismissal of former County Administrator Chantal Unfug last year, and you get the feeling of “Deja Moo” —  that you’ve heard this bull before.

We’ll all be poorer when one of the longest-serving local-government attorneys in Colorado takes his leave on Feb. 14. It remains to be seen whether he’ll find herding cattle any easier than herding cats.

Jim Spehar is among the dozens of past and present Mesa County commissioners who benefited from Lyle Dechant’s advice. Your comments are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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