Our view: Costly conflict
Steamboat Pilot & Today reported Jan. 25 that former Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn had racked up over $100,000 in attorney’s fees with a Front Range firm during her final year in office. The amount far surpassed her $2,000 budget for legal expenses, which the Routt County Board of Commissioners approved for her to spend. And, according to County Manager Tom Sullivan, Horn was repeatedly asked whether or not the fees from an outside attorney would exceed that amount, and she indicated they would not.
At issue: It was revealed through a records request that former Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn spent more than $100K on legal services with an outside law firm in 2018.
Our View: County taxpayers paid the price for Horn’s inability to work with her fellow county officeholders.
• Logan Molen, publisher
• Lisa Schlichtman, editor
• Mike Burns, community representative
• Melissa Hampton, community representative
Contact the Editorial Board at 970-871-4221 or lschlichtman@
It’s county taxpayers who are now footing the bill — an amount that accumulated, in our opinion, as a result of Horn’s inability to cooperate and communicate with her fellow county officeholders. During her tenure as county treasurer, Horn, time and time again, found reasons to take what we would describe as a bullying approach, refusing to work constructively with the people she was elected to serve alongside, including the county commissioners, the assessor, the county manager and the city of Steamboat Springs.
This type of behavior proved destructive and didn’t serve the public well.
Yes, Horn had the statutory right to run the treasurer’s office independently, but county residents also expect their elected leaders to cooperate and work together with others to find answers to sometimes complicated issues that involve a number of different entities. To refuse to do so actually causes harm.
For example, in 2016, Horn decided to refuse Peabody Energy’s overdue property tax payments without interest. She didn’t communicate her actions with county commissioners and 18 taxing entities, including school districts, fire districts and libraries, who were owed $1.77 million in taxes from Peabody’s Twentymile coal mine and rely on that income to operate.
That situation was just one of many disagreements Horn had with the county commissioners and other officeholders, which deteriorated relationships enough that Horn believed she needed outside counsel to assist her rather than relying on the county attorney, who would normally handle legal issues for the treasurer’s office at half the cost of what Glenda Gessler and Blue charged her.
Over and over again, Horn escalated situations to intense levels — accusing the county commissioners of criminal activity over a PayPal account and asking the sheriff to investigate and, most recently, filing a lawsuit against the commissioners claiming they illegally abated tax interest.
In our opinion, these issues could have been solved more civilly and without spending thousands and thousands of dollars on legal fees if Horn had been willing to just to sit down and discuss issues openly and transparently with the various people she should have worked closely with while conducting her duties as treasurer.
As we stated in previous editorials on this subject, the county would have benefited from more collaboration and less conflict. The failure to communicate was costly in more ways than one. It cost taxpayers over $100,000, and Horn’s behavior was distracting and negatively impacted the county’s ability to function at maximum efficiency.
Horn’s term concluded Dec. 31, 2018, and our new county treasurer Lane Iacovetto has made it clear in her first month in office that she intends to work with her fellow officeholders for the benefit of her constituents. “To represent and support the people of Routt County, we all have to work together,” Iacovetto was quoted as saying in an article about the county’s new officeholders — words that we hope signal a new season of cooperation among our county officials.
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Keith Hale thinks fishing in the Yampa Valley has started off different this year. Normally, the river is higher as the snow rapidly melts, making it cloudy and difficult to fish.