Dechant deserves thanks for service

During the three decades-plus that Lyle Dechant has served as Mesa County attorney, The Daily Sentinel has disagreed with his advice to the county commissioners on several occasions — sometimes strenuously — most often over his interpretations of what information should be made public.

But we would never argue that Dechant hasn’t served the county and his immediate clients, the county commissioners, well during the more than 30 years he has been on the job. One cannot be in a job so long — especially one in which one’s bosses change every four years — without having skills in dealing with a variety of personalities and in addressing their concerns about the legality of county policies and actions.

Moreover, Dechant and his staff have represented the county ably when legal action has been filed against it. The most significant decision against the county in the last three decades was probably the judicial order in the 1980s that the county replace its aging old jail with a more capacious and modern one. But the case began before Dechant became county attorney and involved an old jail building that needed replacing. He can hardly be held responsible for that costly court case.

However, Dechant has provided the county with some debatable advice in recent years — such as on the public-notice requirements for the dismissal a little more than a year ago of then-County Administrator Chantal Unfug and also on how county Building Department funds were treated under the state’s TABOR Amendment.

That sort of advice apparently led Commissioners Rose Pugliese and John Justman to at least encourage Dechant’s retirement. According to Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who voted against accepting Dechant’s resignation, Dechant didn’t want to retire on Feb. 14, as he now is going to do. He pushed that date forward, Acquafresca said, because it was made clear to the attorney that he would be dismissed if he didn’t resign.

The commissioners have every right to keep or fire the county attorney, who serves at their pleasure. And their handling of Dechant’s leave-taking more clearly met the requirements for public notice under Colorado’s open-meetings law than did their actions last year when Unfug was dismissed.

Pugliese told The Daily Sentinel that in seeking a replacement for Dechant, she will look for someone well-versed in Western issues, as well as having an interest in transparency.

We applaud Pugliese for including transparency in the job description. But we hope that whoever becomes the next county attorney has more than a passing interest in transparency. We hope he or she has a passion for it and will continually remind these county commissioners and future ones that they serve the citizens of Mesa County and that only in very limited, specific circumstances should their business be conducted in such a manner that the public is excluded.

In the meantime, we wish to join many people in the county in thanking Lyle Dechant for his years of service to this community.


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