Rose Pugliese mug (copy)

Former Mesa County commissioner Rose Pugliese

Former County Commissioner Rose Pugliese has taken herself out of the running for the county attorney job.

Later today, the Board of County Commissioners plan to reopen the position for a third round of applicants, county officials say. It is to appear on the commissioner’s planned agenda for its regular Monday meeting.

In a letter of withdrawal sent on Tuesday, Pugliese told Commissioners Janet Rowland, Cody Davis and Scott McInnis that she’s not yet done with politics. As a result, she is not ready to take a bureaucratic position where she isn’t supposed to be political.

“Thank you for the opportunity to interview with you as a finalist for the Mesa County Attorney position,” Pugliese wrote in a letter of withdrawal from consideration. “Upon much deliberation and prayer, I realized that at this point in my life, my passion lies in my political work, and I am not ready yet to put that work aside. The county attorney needs to possess political savvy without being political. Therefore, I withdraw my name from consideration.”

The former commissioner became the sole finalist after the current commissioners passed over their two first-round finalists, Deputy County Attorney Nina Atencio and Chief Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Lee Springer.

That move came after weeks of discussions over what qualifications the new county attorney should have, and behind-the-scenes interviews with Atencio and Springer.

Rowland, who is chair of the three-member board, has said the commission is looking for someone who could represent their values and principles, equating it to more of a Cabinet-like position.

“People elected us based on our values, our guiding principles, our belief in the proper role of government,” Rowland said last week. “So it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that we would hire members of our cabinet who share those values and will implement them.”

Pugliese said she appreciated the commissioners taking that stance.

“I appreciate that you did not ignore the crucial importance of leadership experience and management style that is vitally necessary to run an efficient and effective office, and you are to be commended for recognizing the value of those qualities,” Pugliese wrote. “In addition to legal knowledge, it is essential that the county attorney understands the policy implications of the commissioners’ decision-making process in order to provide them informed legal advice.”

The decision to name Pugliese as sole finalist was met with wide skepticism throughout the county.

It sparked numerous letters to the editor, You Said It comments and online posts.

“There’s been a lot of shade cronyism in this conservative, Republican-run, County and City and sadly this latest episode is taking this to a new, low, ugly level,” retired Colorado Mesa University professor Jack Delmore wrote on The Daily Sentinel’s Facebook page. “Why people here keep voting for these corrupt Republicans is beyond me.”

Pugliese said she didn’t apply during the first round — or right away in the second — because she had recently moved to Colorado Springs with her two young children, and had started a new job there in the law offices of Wegener, Scarborough & Lane, where she is working on estate planning and business development for municipal and county outsourced work.

Pugliese was term limited and, by law, was barred from running again. She had briefly flirted with running for the Colorado Senate representing Mesa County, but later withdrew that bid. She is often named as a possible candidate to be the Republican Party’s nominee for various statewide offices, including Colorado Secretary of State and the 3rd Congressional District, a district in which she no longer lives.

Pugliese was among 12 candidates for the position, six applicants from the first round and six more from the second. She said she had encouraged some of those candidates to apply. Atencio listed Pugliese as a reference in her application.

“While the timing of this position is not right for me, I will always be committed to the continued success and advancement of Mesa County,” Pugliese told the Sentinel.

Atencio has been deputy attorney for the past six years, but worked there previously from 2002 to 2014; Springer has been with the district attorney’s office since 2013.

The position became open after the new commissioners declined to renew the contract for Patrick Coleman, who had been county attorney for the past six years. He was making $185,000 a year after getting a 37% pay increase in recent years, making him the highest paid county employee.