Chris Baird

The stories issuing forth from the slow parade of disaffected longtime Moab City employees is standing in stark contrast to city leaders’ assertions that all is well at City Hall.

City leaders should consider the effectiveness of their PR efforts against the distrust they are building with their opacity and reluctance to address obvious internal tensions with city management. This is a small town, and no action occurs in a vacuum.

I’ve known and worked well with the city employees who’ve been let go or resigned as a result of the reorganization effort. The community knows them also as friends, family, neighbors, good people and dedicated city employees. I unequivocally believe that they have been mistreated. I can’t imagine the rationale that city leaders could have for unceremoniously tossing employees, with several years and even decades of meritorious service to the city and their community, out with the trash. It’s callous, cold-hearted and ungrateful. If city leaders and management are feeling treated likewise, perhaps they should consider that it is wise to treat people in the same fashion that you’d like to be treated yourself.

Last October, I was made aware of a serious financial impropriety concerning the city’s procurement of IT services. Tara Smelt, who lives with Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson, registered a business, Tayo Inc., at Davidson’s and Smelt’s home address immediately prior to the city paying the company several thousand dollars at the end of June 2015 for IT services. This presents a clear conflict of interest between Tayo Inc. and Davidson. State law requires that such conflicts be declared. As far as I know, no such declaration was made.

Upon advisement by Tayo Inc. that a security threat exists, assistant city manager and recorder Rachel Stenta issued an emergency purchase for Tayo Inc.’s continued services. The effect of an emergency purchase is that the typical purchasing procedures intended to ensure fair and ethical procurement and expenditure of public funds is bypassed. This was done with the knowledge that there was an undisclosed conflict of interest present. Both Davidson and Stenta have decades of public administration experience and there is no way they can claim that they didn’t know the proper procedures to follow regarding conflicts of interest. As far as I can ascertain, Tayo Inc. has received over $43,000 in public money. In the absence of the emergency purchase, this should have gone out to sealed bid.

In November, I asked a city council member if she was aware of the above conflict of interest. According to this council member, it was not known by her that Smelt was involved in the company providing IT services. I expressed that I would then entrust the council to investigate and rectify this issue. To this day, I can’t tell that anything at all has happened. There has been no declaration of the conflict of interest, and no apparent action rectifying the situation. This concerns me beyond this issue individually, and makes me wonder what other improprieties may exist currently or may develop with such a lackadaisical financial conflict standard.

Upon learning that I had expressed this concern to a city council member, Smelt attempted to procure the services of a local attorney to investigate me, and she did eventually procure the services of a firm in Denver. I take this as an intimidation tactic. If Smelt’s intention was to scare me away from this issue, then it has had the opposite effect. I find it truly unfortunate that I have to deal with such intimidation simply for expressing my concerns about public expenditures to a city council member. I certainly hope no one else ends up likewise and that citizens can feel safe in expressing concerns to their elected officials.

On a final note, I have to express my dismay at seeing so many out-of-town hires at the city recently. This is in no way a judgment on those folks who’ve been hired; as far as I can tell, they are fine employees. However, Moab locals need good jobs too. I realize that locals may not always have perfect qualifications or as much education as folks from out of town. However, in my experience at the county, finding someone who has already made a commitment to a life here, and shows enthusiasm for the position, is worth a lot in the long run. Government could be a great leg up for its local citizens if it would be willing to train them and trust that they will grow into the position.

I haven’t written this in an attempt to sabotage the city. I want to see a greater level of accountability in finance. And, I also want city leaders to rethink their callous new management practices and treat their employees with the respect they’ve earned.

Chris Baird is a member of the Grand County Council. However, he is speaking on his own behalf and not that of Grand County.

City leaders should consider the effectiveness of their PR efforts against the distrust they are building with their opacity and reluctance to address obvious internal tensions with city management.