by Bill Knowles
LA VETA- The La Veta Town Marshal and one of his deputies had their employment cut short by the Town Board during a special meeting on Friday morning, April 15, at Town Hall. Both Harold Willburn and his deputy Jason Vaughn had been notified on Wednesday, April 13 that their jobs were on the line, and Friday’s meeting was called to give them the opportunity to address the board with their concerns.
During Friday’s meeting Jason Vaughn requested that the board list his termination as a lay-off rather then as a termination. On a vote of 6-0, with Trustee Laurie Erwin absent, the board approved the change of termination status for Vaughn. This will allow Vaughn to pursue future employment and collect unemployment insurance.
In a conversation with La Veta Mayor Don Keairns on Wednesday the 13th, Harold Willburn was offered 30 days to either resign or face termination. On Friday, Willburn stated to the Board that he would not resign his position. “I don’t understand this,” Willburn told the board. “I’ve worked for the town for 11 years and had a favorable review this last time. And I would like the opportunity to discuss this with the board.”
The board’s response was that the state is a free will state and an employer doesn’t have to give a reason for termination of employment. Also according to Trustee Blanken, any conversation between the town and Willburn involving personnel issues would be confidential and wouldn’t be discussed at an open meeting.
Mayor Keairns voiced the opinion that maybe the board should sit with Willburn for further discussion. Trustee Klinke was in favor of the idea. However Trustee Tracy Webb said that any move in that direction was out of order. “Harold was told what the deal was,” alluding to a police committee meeting on March 30.
The board went into executive session to discuss the impact of security issues arising from the termination of the marshal and a deputy. When the board went into executive session, the Huerfano World Journal called Huerfano County Sheriff Bruce Newman to ask if the La Veta Town Board had notified his office of their decision or if they had sought to get help from the sheriff to ensure that public safety in La Veta was being taken care of. Sheriff Newman stated that he was not aware of the termination of Willburn or of a deputy.
After executive session the board returned to open meeting to discuss Marshal Willburn’s status and to determine when his terminiation would be made effective.
Trustee Webb asked Willburn, “So you are not willing to work 30 days and then resign?” “You’ll have to make a decision. I’m not taking the option,” Willburn said. “I don’t know how we can expect him to work for 30 days knowing he’s been fired,” Webb said to the board.
Trustee Blanken put a motion to the board to terminate Willburn immediately. Trustee Davis made the second. Trustee Blanken commented that she was unhappy with how this [the termination] came about. “Before we vote, I want everyone to know that this has been building over a period of time.”
The board voted 4-2 for immediate termination. Voting yes were Trustees Blanken, Davis, Fowler and Webb. Mayor Keairns and Trustee Klinke voted no.
The meeting was recessed until 6:30 pm that evening, and at that point Deputy Gerald Baumgarner was promoted to Town Marshal. Sheriff Newman and the new La Veta Town Marshall, Gerald Baumgarner, have now been in contact with each other according to a conversation with Sheriff Newman on April 18.