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A month after firing the city manager, Dacono city officials remain divided

City of Dacono Special Council meeting - March 8, 2023 6-26 screenshot.png
City of Dacono
A City of Dacono Special Council meeting on March 8, 2023, ended abruptly when four council members voted not to enter an executive session intended to discuss potential candidates for the interim City Manager position. Dacono's prior City Manager was unexpectedly fired without cause or explanation by the same four council members at a meeting on February 13, 2023.

Last month four Dacono city council members abruptly fired the longtime city manager without cause. The same four council members – Kathryn Wittman, Jackie Thomas, Jim Turini and Danny Long - blocked recent council discussions about hiring an interim replacement, in a move that seemed to cement opposing factions within the city council.

At a special council meeting on Wednesday, Dacono Mayor Adam Morehead asked for a closed executive session to discuss potential candidates for the position. “There is a person who wants to be considered as the interim city manager [and] does not want the discussion to be held in the public meeting,” City Attorney Kathleen Kelly explained. “The Open Meetings Law does permit the city council to meet in executive session for that purpose.”

But Morehead’s proposal was voted down by the block of four council members, effectively ending discussion on the matter.

“I would feel uncomfortable going into an executive session without knowing that person’s name or having a resume or anything,” Council member Jackie Thomas said after the vote.

Our citizens at the last meeting made it quite clear they want everything in the open. Executive session does not offer them that.

Jim Turini, Dacono City Council member

“Our citizens at the last meeting made it quite clear they want everything in the open,” Council member Jim Turini said. “Executive session does not offer them that.”

Ultimately, council members Kevin Plain and Doris Crespo voted in favor of moving ahead with the executive session discussion. They were outnumbered by Wittman, Thomas, Turini and Long, who voted no.

The insistence on transparency appeared to be a change in attitude for the four council members who declined the executive session. Just a few weeks prior, the same group had refused to discuss their reasons for firing longtime City Manager AJ Euckert, a decision that caught the other members of city council off guard. But KUNC’s repeated attempts to contact Wittman, Thomas, Turini and Long have all gone unanswered, so the intentions behind their public actions remain a mystery.

After the executive session was voted down, frustrations flared, and the meeting was abruptly adjourned after just six and a half minutes.

The City of Dacono has now been without a chief administrator for nearly a month and city leader have not been able to coalesce around an effort to fill that role.

Mayor Adam Morehead says the council is now at an impasse. “I'm frustrated that things are not getting done,” he told KUNC. “I'm frustrated that the council refuses to move forward with trying to get an interim [manager].”

Outside the council chambers

After City Manager AJ Euckert was unexpectedly fired in an off-agenda motion at the end of an otherwise routine council meeting on February 13th, rumors swirled about the way events unfolded.

The speed and certainty with which Wittman, Thomas, Turini and Long carried out the firing led many to suspect that the decision had been planned by the group behind closed doors. That would be in violation of Colorado’s Open Meeting laws, which require advance notice when issues of public policy are being raised and prohibit city council members from discussing public policy outside of public view (with certain exceptions for executive sessions, like the one Morehead proposed on March 8).

Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition Executive Director Jeff Roberts says Euckert’s firing isn’t an open and shut violation of Open Meetings Law. “I think there’s questions. Was that properly noticed? Was that predetermined before the meeting?,” he said. “Is this something that just happened and they all were like-minded? I think there’s more information we need to know whether there was an open meetings violation in that.”

Roberts also cautions that if the firing was planned all along, the public should have been given notice. “It should have been on the agenda and there should have been 24 hours notice that we're considering the city manager's job,” he said.

Concerns about Open Meeting law violations prompted Mayor Adam Morehead to call for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Euckert’s firing. In an email, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation confirmed with KUNC that an investigation involving Dacono City Council is currently active.

Dacono City Attorney Kathleen Kelly, who has served in the role for the past twenty-five years, submitted her letter of resignation on February 14th, the day after Euckert’s firing. She will remain in the job until April 15th.

Recall campaigns for Thomas and Turini

In the weeks following AJ Euckert’s firing, three Dacono residents —
Rick Gerk, Megan Thornam and Tony Cummings — filed petitions to recall Jim Turini and Jackie Thomas.

The petitions allege that Thomas and Turini “engaged in conduct that violated the Open Meetings Law of the State of Colorado to terminate the City Manager,” and placed “the administration of the City at risk.”

“We felt like they broke the Sunshine Law,” Thornam said. “Ultimately we need a council that has transparency and a certain amount of ethics and character. The way they did it was underhanded and it felt like a political stunt."

Thornam says she doesn’t have enough information to judge Euckert’s fitness for the job, or lack thereof.

It's not the decision they made, but the way they did it that has caused the public to lose trust

Megan Thornam, Dacono resident

Thornam reports her team has already collected all the signatures they need — along with a healthy cushion — to move forward with the recall campaign, and that it only took one weekend to get there. “Which shows you there's more than enough support,” she said. “There's enough residents that are upset by what happened.”

Cummings says support for the recall petition has come from all corners of Dacono, and does not fall along ideological lines. “It’s not a political issue. It’s a community issue,” he said. “The overarching theme of this petition is that government needs to happen in the sunlight and not in the shadows.”

The group did not file recall petitions for Wittman and Long because Wittman’s term ends later this year, and Long has not yet been in office long enough to be recalled.

Counter-recall campaigns

Given the active investigation into potential Open Meetings violations, some residents in Dacono were surprised to see council members Wittman, Thomas, Turini and Long together, knocking on doors in the Sweetgrass neighborhood last weekend.

Wittman and Long caught Cory Singleton’s attention when he spotted them standing in his driveway. “It was pretty easy to immediately recognize that, oh, these people are from the city council,” Singleton said. He didn’t speak to them but observed through his home security camera as the two stopped for a moment to regroup.

“They never came to our door,” Singleton said, adding that they appeared to have a list of addresses to avoid – including his own – belonging to people who had been public about their distaste for the city council’s antics.

The council members seemed to be canvassing the neighborhood to drum up support in opposition to the circulating recall petitions, raising additional concerns about public business being conducted outside of the proper channels.

According to Jeff Roberts, it’s not clear that those actions violate the Open Meetings law. “If they were walking around talking about the Rockies, that's definitely not a meeting under the Open Meetings Law,” he said. “For a meeting to be subject to the Open Meetings law, it has to relate to a public body’s policymaking function.”

Roberts says the neighborhood canvassing falls into a grey area. “There are four of them meeting in the neighborhood to try to gain support for themselves. Is that their policymaking function?,” Roberts said. The answer to that question, he says, would be open to judicial interpretation, if that question were ever to land in the court system.

I am the Rural and Small Communities Reporter at KUNC. That means my focus is building relationships and telling stories from under-covered pockets of Colorado.
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