‘Palace intrigue’: Montrose official takes new county position after receiving severance package

Commissioners end Ken Norris’ county-manager contract then give him a raise

The Montrose County Courthouse in Montrose is seen on Aug. 16, 2014. (Jeffrey Beall via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Within days of leaving his $120,200-a-year job as Montrose County manager, Ken Norris was offered a position as the county’s director of Facilities and Construction Management, which pays $125,200, after he received a severance package of $142,162 — a year’s salary plus benefits.

During a June 3 special session, Montrose County Commissioners Sue Hansen, Keith Caddy and Roger Rash “mutually agreed” with Norris to end Norris’ contract as county manager, effective immediately. His most recent contract had been established in October 2016, and it had an indeterminate end time, according to Montrose County spokeswoman Katie Yergensen.

Deputy County Manager Jon Waschbusch will serve as interim county manager.

Yergensen gave no reason why the board of commissioners wanted a change in management and said she was “out of the office for this.”

When Rash was reached by phone Tuesday he told a reporter, “What part of ‘no comment’ don’t you understand?” before abruptly hanging up.

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The other two commissioners, Caddy and Hansen, did not immediately return emails or phone calls. Rash had initially referred questions about the decision to end Norris’ contract to Yergensen, who would only say that it was a “mutually agreed” upon decision.

Former Montrose County manager Ken Norris. (Barton Glasser via Montrose County)

In a June 3 county-issued news release, Hansen stated: “We are extremely grateful to Ken for his dedication, expertise, and positive attitude over the past seven years. His high level of skills and expertise, along with an impressive background, have helped make Montrose County a leader on the western slope. Moving forward, we look to build on that foundation and continue to innovate and grow.”

Norris has worked for Montrose County since 2010. He served three years as Facilities director prior to being appointed to county manager in 2014, where he continued to retain the title of Facilities director. When asked how Norris could do the two jobs, Yergensen explained, “We have a strong staff here. They were handling a lot of those duties.” She said “construction management” has been added to the position of Facilities director.

‘The whole thing is bizarre’

Former Montrose County Commissioner David White, who served as chair of the board for five years, was one of the commissioners who appointed Norris initially. White also chose to renew Norris’ contract in 2016, he said.

“I just learned today he was appointed as Facilities director, so now he receives that salary and also gets the golden parachute of paid salary and benefits,” White said. “It’s a bit of palace intrigue.”

He continued: “When an employee is terminated by commissioners they receive a year’s worth of salary and benefits. An employee who resigns is eligible for nothing. He got the payout — that tells me it was a forced resignation.”

White said he suspects the commissioners wanted to replace Norris with Waschbusch and were looking for a way to “make a deal” with Norris to avoid the embarrassment of a termination.

“What’s bizarre, is they then turn around and hire him back as Facilities director,” White said. “The whole thing is bizarre. I don’t buy what they’re saying. If you resign and we pay your severance it means we fired you.”

Norris did not respond to emails or phone messages requesting comment.

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