RIO GRANDE COUNTY- During the meeting of the Rio Grande County Commissioners Oct. 14, County Attorney Ryan Dunn addressed recent rumors pertaining to a conversation that was held in a previous meeting concerning High Valley Community Center (HVCC).
Dunn had set aside a portion of the agenda to publicly dispel rumors that in his terms, bordered on slander and defamation of character. In a meeting held on Sept. 30, Rio Grande County Social Service Director Jody Kern brought some concerns to the board in regard to invoices that had been issued by High Valley Community Center to the department for reimbursement and asked the board for direction on how to proceed.
In the meeting held Sept. 30, board members under the advisement of Dunn asked Kern to not issue reimbursement or to pay the invoices until more research into the matter could be concluded. Kern stated that her main concern was that HVCC usually submitted invoices for reimbursement for TANF funding through the department which calculated to $6 per child per day when the center was fully functional.
In the last invoice that was submitted by HVCC, Kern noticed that the center was now asking for reimbursement of TANF funding for $13 per child, per contact due to the fact that the center was not open for in-person services, they were charging for “contact” calls which amounted to more than double what was charged for in-person services. After this conversation Dunn made the suggestion that the board withhold reimbursement until more information could be collected and the board in turn advised Kern to do just that.
Once the conversation was over, according to all board members, there was no further correspondence on the matter until a rumor was spread last week that Dunn and Rio Grande Commissioner John Noffsker attended a HVCC board meeting and threatened to pull all funding from HVCC. This was not true as Dunn continued to state in open session during the meeting Oct. 14.
“I want to address something that came up after the Sept. 30 meeting when we met as a board and the subject of High Valley Community Center was raised. Jody Kern, Department Director of Social Services was giving a report to the board regarding some TANF expenditures that were made to High Valley Community Center. During the context of that conversation, I had suggested to the board that I didn’t think it would be appropriate for Jody to make any additional payments to High Valley Community Center because at the time the department was still looking at some overpayments that the center has already received,” said Dunn.
Dunn continued to state that although he understood that his comments made during the meeting could have been construed as accusations, but that was not the purpose of the recommendation. “It was not my intentions to cast aspersions or make accusations. But I do understand that the comments I made ruffled some feathers. As an attorney, this is not the first nor the last time my comments will be taken this way when I am representing my clients.”
“I will state as a matter of fact, the Department of Social Services received invoicing from High Valley Community Center that was above what should have been invoiced to the department for the simple fact, again this is a fact that the rate was nearly double the agreed upon rate. That is a fact that exists. It is also a fact that there was invoicing for children that were not TANF eligible. All of the reimbursement from the Department of Social Services came in the form of TANF. TANF is temporary aid for needy families. To be a qualifying child, your family income has to be less than $75,000 per year. It is a fact that there were children that the Department of Social Services were billed for that exceeded that $75,000 amount in terms of their family. I am not making any accusations that anyone did anything intentionally. That is not my role as county attorney.”
Dunn continued to state, “Last Thursday, I received an email from Mrs. Kern indicating that Commissioner Suzanne Bothell had expressed concerns to her that Commissioner Noffsker and myself attended a board meeting of High Valley Community Center and that in the course of that board meeting, he or I, or both, made representations that the board of county commissioners was pulling all funding from High Valley and in turn, High Valley was going to return all of the money and sue the county.”
“I want to be very clear that Commissioner Noffsker nor myself attended any meeting of High Valley Community Center.”
Dunn finished stating, “I was very distressed that I was hearing this secondhand and not from my commissioner herself. It was also distressing to me when I asked for the source of her information, she refused to disclose that information. Not only was the accusation damaging. Not only was it potentially defamatory. I felt it was destructive to this board and this governmental body. I felt it was detrimental to my personal and professional reputation. I have worked very hard to maintain good relationships with the entire board and have gone out of my way to dispel rumors that my leaving was for anything more than to pursue my career. I even gave a statement to Valley Publishing making this very clear and I take issue with this.”
Noffsker took a moment to also speak about the issue stating, “For the record, I have had no contact at any time with the High Valley Community Center board or any individuals. I was totally unaware of this allegation. The extent of my involvement since the Sept. 30 meeting has only been through the audit that is being conducted in the Public Health Department. When I came to be aware of the rumor, I cannot say I was shocked because it seems to be how things have functioned in the past. Leaks from this board and executive session that we have had has led to a pattern of misinformation out there perpetrated by individuals unknown to me to serve no other purpose than to disrupt normal county business and distract us from what is really important. All of our representations get sullied in that.”
Dunn closed the conversation with a final statement, “Public confidence and the reputation of this board is at an all time low and the goal of everyone in this room should be to instill public confidence and to rebuild public confidence and if you do not share that goal, then you should not be at this table.”