Pitkin County commissioners are seeking to reform alleged “good ol’ boy” behavior in a powerful lobbying association for Colorado county governments.
Pitkin County sent a letter to Denver-based Colorado Counties Inc. on April 27 complaining of alleged incidents of misogynistic conduct by some members of the group and the organization’s behind-the-scenes politics in his outfit.
“Our concerns cause us to reevaluate our continued membership in CCI,” reads the letter signed by the five county commissioners. “We would like to give you the opportunity to address our concerns and assure you that these patterns of conduct and behavior will not be tolerated at CCI in the future.”
Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury raised concerns about several “beyond pale” incidents at recent CCI meetings she attended. She raised her concerns with Pitkin County commissioners at a meeting last week. She is one of three representatives on CCI’s steering committees, along with Steve Child and Francie Jacober.
Pitkin County pays $30,000 a year for membership in the ICC, which works on policy that benefits Colorado counties, lobbies on their behalf on legislative issues, and provides resources on a multitude of issues.
CCI executive director John Swartout acknowledged last week that some incidents have occurred at CCI meetings that go against the organization’s code of ethics. He thanked McNicholas Kury for pointing them out.
“The board took their letter seriously,” he said.
Swartout said CCI would respond to Pitkin County’s concerns in writing and the eight-member board would contact county officials for personal discussions. It is important for the association to ensure that all members are comfortable at CCI meetings and that all members have a voice, he said.
He summed up CCI’s position as follows: “Let’s talk about it. (Pitkin County) valuable here.
CCI brings together representatives from 61 of Colorado’s 64 counties. Only Denver, Broomfield and Boulder counties are not part of the group. The meetings are a political jambalaya that brings together conservatives and liberals, rural and urban dwellers. Swartout said it was typical to have 75 or more commissioners and support staff attending a steering committee meeting in person and online.
The letter from Pitkin County claimed there were “several instances of misogynistic conduct” at ICC steering committee meetings on April 7 and 8.
“First, during a break in committee discussion, there was a sexual assault joke, which was met with laughter by some fellow Commissioners, followed by a second sexual assault joke, which was also met with laughter by some fellow commissioners,” the letter said. “What has not been received is a public warning from the leadership of the steering committee, the leadership of the board of directors or the staff of CCI to bring about a restoration of decorum in the conference room . Such a warning would have been appropriate for all to hear at the time, or in a follow-up communication to members.
The letter continues that on the second day of steering committee meetings, a male commissioner could be heard via Zoom calling a female commissioner a “doll” in an “insulting and pejorative manner.”
“These displays of misogynistic and disrespectful conduct created an overall intimidating effect and contributed to a disrespectful environment and chilling effort at dialogue,” the county’s letter reads.
Swartout said he was not present when the jokes were told or when a commissioner was called a doll. A different curator, not McNicholas Kury, drew his attention to the “doll” reference. He contacted the commissioner who used the term. This commissioner apologized to the person who complained as well as to the commissioner, according to Swartout.
Swartout said CCI spoke to the member who shared the jokes and stressed that such conduct was “unacceptable.” During the chat, he said he noted, “Listen, man, you can’t do this at our meeting.”
Pitkin County’s other grievances involved Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters receiving “airtime” at a CCI event and the association’s allegedly “partisan” approach to lobbying a bill in the Legislature regarding collective bargaining.
The county pointed out that Peters is on arraignment for seven felonies and three alleged misdemeanors for alleged tampering with election security.
Swartout said Peters participated in a meeting between CCI and the Colorado Employees Association. She wasn’t invited. “She bombarded our call,” he said.
When he learned from staff members via text message that Peters was talking to the CCI group, he ordered his staff to cut Peters off.
“My staff member interrupted the call,” Swartout said. “We did what we had to do. We did not give him a platform.
Regarding CCI’s stance on collective bargaining, Swartout said it has led to “a bit of consternation” within the organization. Some counties were strongly opposed while others were more moderate. At the time of the vote, 75% of members opposed the bill.
He was bound to honor that direction, but he also tried to get CCI to sit at the negotiating table because it was clear the bill would pass the Legislative Assembly.
“We did what we do best, which is to make a bill better,” he said.
Pitkin County felt that CCI’s position fueled partisan resentment and that the organization could have been more effective without a hard line. McNicholas Kury also felt that minority voices, like that of Pitkin County, are often ignored in CCI actions.
Swartout said it’s rarely easy to represent positions from 61 counties. Official positions must be supported by a qualified majority of members. He said CCI’s core mission of representing the interests of its county members is best achieved when they put aside differences, political and otherwise, and work together.
“When we work together, we move mountains,” he said.
When McNicholas Kury aired her concerns last week, she was ready to immediately bail out the CCI. She was particularly irritated by the misogynistic comments.
“I don’t want to be part of it,” she said of joining CCI. “I don’t see how Pitkin County would want to be part of it.”
Commissioner Greg Poschman said he was “sickened” by what he had heard and favored the idea of abandoning the ICC.
“Maybe the money is better spent elsewhere,” he said.
Jacober, Child and Commissioner Patti Clapper supported bringing their concerns to CCI and weighing the organization’s response.
McNicholas Kury said Tuesday she was eager to see how CCI responds to Pitkin County’s concerns, but noted there have been longstanding “tensions” between the organization and the county.
“Pitkin County is considered an outlier in this group,” she said.
She said she wasn’t sure that misogynistic behavior on the part of some CCI members was something that could be eliminated. This makes her think that she might not personally attend the meeting of the organization.
“As a young elected woman, it feels a bit like a good old boys’ club,” she said.