Ignacio’s mayor resigns

Millich cites concerns about broad array of issues

Ignacio Mayor Ena Millich announced her resignation from the Town Board of Trustees on Tuesday after laying out a broad range of accusations and frustrations with the town’s government.

In a meeting with The Durango Herald on Tuesday, Millich cited concerns about last year’s mayoral election, the town’s hiring practices, its budget process and the town’s trustees’ compliance with open-meetings laws.

Her only option, Millich said, was to resign.

“As Mayor, I have attempted to conduct Town business in accordance with state statutes and to understand and correct issues related to elections, Town hiring practices, open meetings law, fund transfers and the Town’s precarious financial condition. Unfortunately this has resulted in negative reaction from the Town staff and some hard feelings with other members of the Board of Trustees which prevent me from working effectively as Mayor,” Millich wrote in a letter of resignation to the board.

Millich’s resignation caps months of rising tension between the former mayor and town staff, who refuted most of Millich’s accusations, and they had their own complaints about the former mayor.

In a letter sent to Town Manager Michael Lee on Jan. 11, four town staff members said Millich’s actions were eroding the town’s image and negatively affecting staff performance.

“The Mayor’s mistrust and micromanaging of staff is nothing but demoralizing,” the letter said. “The perception by staff is that the Mayor assumes we are doing things incorrectly, and have no experience in our positions.”

The letter estimated monetary costs the town has incurred complying with and reacting to the mayor’s requests, investigations and other actions have totaled at least $23,000.

The staff members’ letter says: “We respectfully ask, that for the good of the town of Ignacio, that the Mayor remove herself from office if this behavior continues.”

James Brown, the town’s director of public works, also filed a harassment complaint against Millich in January.

He accused Millich of repeatedly claiming that his hiring was illegal, though he presented evidence to the contrary.

“I am starting to have health effects from the hostile work environment Mayor Millich has created for myself and the entire Town staff,” Brown wrote.

On Tuesday, staff members responded to accusations Millich made before resigning.

Votes taken at a Dec. 4 budget work session, for example, weren’t outside the law as Millich argued, but were done to provide guidance on how to prepare the 2013 budget, said Town Planner Miriam Gillow-Wiles, who signed the complaint letter against Millich. During the Dec. 4 meeting, the trustees voted on whether to include certain fee increases and staffing costs in the 2013 budget.

Town Attorney Dirk Nelson affirmed that the December meeting complied with open-meetings laws.

Millich criticized the hiring of both Gillow-Wiles and Brown, saying both instances lacked an open hiring process.

Brown said he repeatedly provided Millich with the Oct. 22, 2010, newspaper advertising the maintenance worker position for which he applied and was hired. Before he was hired, Brown was briefly an intern with the town.

Millich also expressed concern that the town hired Brown even though he has several felonies on his record including vehicle theft, controlled substance possession and forgery.

Brown acknowledged the offenses, saying he had made mistakes in the past and had paid his debt to society. Millich was part of the board that unanimously approved his hiring, he said.

Gillow-Wiles also started at the town as an intern. When her 11-month position through the Americorps program ended, Gillow-Wiles said the town hired her without going through an open hiring process because she already had gone through a competitive process for the internship.

“The town can move somebody up through ranks like that without having to go through an advertised process,” she said.

Meanwhile, Lee said fund transfers that Millich called suspicious were done to avoid budget deficits in the town’s community-development fund and were approved by the Town Board.

“The mayor may have misunderstood some of the figures she looked at and made some inaccurate statements,” Lee said at the meeting Tuesday night. “I think she misspoke on occasion and exaggerated the budget problem she thinks we had. The bottom line is we’re fine.”

After accepting Millich’s resignation, trustees voted to accept applications from the public to fill the mayor’s position. The Town Board will interview and appoint a candidate, whose term will last until April 2014.

To apply, a person must be a registered elector and a town resident.

ecowan@durangoherald.com