MONTE VISTA— Interviews for a city attorney turned into a spectacle at the Thursday, Feb. 22 meeting of the Monte Vista City Council. The two applicants under consideration are current city attorney Karen Lintott and previous city attorney Gene Farish.
Lintott was hired last year by the previous city council after Gene Farish’s contract was not renewed. Farish strongly questioned the process last year in letters to the editor, requests for details in newspaper articles and complaints to the city council through other attorneys, because Lintott was previous city council member Matthew Martinez’s campaign manager during his run for the Democratic nomination for House District 62. In a similar fashion Farish appears to have acted as legal counsel or advisor and supporter for candidates known as the “Monte Movement” during the 2017 city council elections. The candidates under the umbrella of the “Monte Movement” were promoted and financially assisted with signs, mailers, banners and pamphlets all bearing the names consisting of Mayor Dale Becker, Mayor Pro Tem Victor Sigala and Councilor Gary Johnson. Some believe it should raise the same concern.
The two candidates were invited to interview with the city council during the Thursday meeting. Both of the candidates were asked a series of routine questions asking about their education, background, experience, billing practices and legal philosophies.
Councilor Joe Schlabach asked the rest of the council’s permission to ask follow up questions of the candidates. Schlabach’s request was granted and he asked pointed questions mostly of Farish, also asking him to clarify some issues based on Schlabach’s previous experience as the longest sitting council member with him as city attorney.
Schlabach asked Farish if he believed that he had handled the resignation of previous chief of police Jim Grayson appropriately. Councilor Schlabach alleged that Farish had lost documentation confirming Grayson’s resignation and that it had become a significant issue for the city council. He also alleged that Farish had visited the Valley Publishing office to see if the documentation could be found there. Farish responded that he did not have a recollection of the situation and did not remember discussing the incident with Schlabach but said if he said it happened then he guessed it did.
Councilor Schlabach then asked Farish to explain and give examples of city ordinances he had drafted. Farish detailed his years of experience as municipal attorney and stated ordinances were a significant part of the job. Schlabach then went into further detail with his question and stated that a drug house ordinance Farish had helped to created was deemed to violate state and federal law. Farish responded that there were certain situations in home rule cities and even in the state that were in opposition to state and federal laws. He said he’d have to research the issue more to better answer the question. Schlabach responded it was disconcerting to him because the city of Monte Vista does not have the financial resources to handle any potential lawsuits the way the state of Colorado does.
Schlabach then question if Farish had knowledge of the ACLU investigation on previous municipal judge Dan Powell. He stated the bias or unbias of the ACLU was a debatable topic but that such an investigation should be brought to the city council’s attention because they are a powerful organization. Schlabach said it was concerning to him that the way the city council found about the investigation was through a newspaper article.
Farish responded that the ACLU report had one window in the entire report about Monte Vista; most of the report was focused on Alamosa. Farish stated that he thought the situation could have been handled better and that the judge deserved a conference rather than just being put on suspension.
Schlabach continued the questioning asking Farish if he was not aware in the three years spent with Judge Powell that the ACLU was investigating the city of Monte Vista. Schlabach also pointed out that it did not matter how little the city of Monte Vista was mentioned in the report it still put the city in the spotlight. He noted that Powell was put on paid administrative leave pending an investigation which is required and that Powell chose to resign.
Schlabach ended his questioning by reading an email from Gene Farish during the 2017 city council elections in which he seemed to be acting as an attorney for the candidates acting under the “Monte Movement.” Farish had questioned why the sign code was being considered to be enforced and believed it was an effort by the incumbent and city administration to allegedly violate the candidates’ first amendment rights. Farish had also stated that the city had not enforced the code on previous Mayor Pro Tem Carol Schroeder’s signs. Schlabach state that the non-enforcement had been done on the advice of Farish as acting city attorney.
Now approving of federal law Farish stated that the city’s previous sign code had been deemed unconstitutional and that signs based on content cannot be prohibited. He said if the issue would have had to go to court he believed the city of Monte Vista would have lost on the issue. He continued that the city’s sign code was in need of serious revision.
Schlabach then stated he was concerned that Farish had signed off on the letter as asking for action as an attorney for a political action committee. He more pointedly asked if his email constituted representation of the candidates of the Monte Movement. Schlabach said he believed if the Monte Movement was an issues committee it should have filed campaign finance documents separately. Farish disputed that that was the case and he did not believe he was representing the candidates as individuals. Schlabach said he had been through multiple campaign finance trainings and thought it was something that needed deeper investigation.
After the interview during the time scheduled for council and committee reports Schlabach again asked permission to address the council and audience. Schlabach read a prepared statement that read as follows:
“What I’m about to say I take more seriously than my own life. With my experience in what has been almost two years working with Mr. Farish has been a violation of laws, misstep after misstep. As evidenced in the February 1st meeting he’s made a living off of manipulating and controlling council. He’s lost very important city documents and he’s refused to give the city their property when the city chose not to renew his contract. So I have a question. Mr. Farish do you remember the day you swore an oath to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic? I remember the day that I swore that oath. I can still hear the clock ticking on the wall, smell the musky air and see the pattern on the carpet and hear voices as we made that solemn vow and we ended with the words, ‘So Help Me God.’ Many of my brothers and sisters bled and died for that promise. Many of them bled on the uniform you still wear. If you ever get a chance, go read Sergeant Dakota Myers’ medal of honor citation. There are three Marines and a Navy Corpman who died in that battle. All four of them were from my unit. There’s also a soldier who died from wounds received in that battle. I did not have the good fortune of knowing him, and he was still my brother. Mr. Farish with the way that you’ve practiced law, and the times that you’ve encroached upon the constitution of and the laws of the United States of America and the state of Colorado you’ve desecrated their graves and trampled upon their memories. You’ve brought shame and dishonor to the uniform they and many of my brothers and sisters bled upon. You can sit in your large house with the money that we have paid you built upon the backs of the citizens of Monte Vista and watch as we continue to fight to get our community back. You’ve done enough. Tonight I make this promise to my community. As long as my watch continues I will fight for the rights of my fellow citizens against such people who try and take those rights away. So help me God.”
Farish then responded to the written statement read aloud by Schlabach.
“Mr. Schlabach, I was hoping that we could get through this without some kind of outrageous statement by you such as you’ve made. That is the most outrageous thing that I have ever heard in my life. I have worn the uniform of my country and I’m proud of that and don’t you ever accuse me of desecrating that uniform again. Don’t you ever do that. I have also been respectful of the rights of defendants. I am a prosecutor, we have a system by which we have prosecutors and defense counsel. Defense counsel are responsible for representing their particular client. I have the dual responsibility of protecting rights but prosecuting also. I’ve carried that out eminently. I have also represented this city faithfully for 36 years. I have done so well, I believe. I’ve done so with honor. I have been complimented on my service to this city many many times. I am really outraged at your comments. I think they’re ridiculous and I reject them and I hope that this council without having to go into anymore detail rejects that type of approach. I think you are upset because I promoted the agenda of reform in this city. I saw what you have done yourself in getting rid of people constantly in the city. You have been a part of that. I reject that. Yet, I realize if I’m selected here I may have to work with you. If I have to do that, I will do that, and I will do that to the best of my ability. I’m just sickened by the fact that you would make that type of accusation and that kind of comment to a public body and in public. It’s a lie and so are you.”
Mayor Becker then called the meeting into an executive session. Following the end of the session Becker read the following statement, “The Monte Vista City Council is not ready to make a decision at this time and is considering re-issuing the RFP (requests for proposal for attorney services) at a later date.”
Council clarifies position
On Monday, Feb. 26 the Monte Vista City Council released the following statement regarding the Thursday meeting.
“While Councilor Schlabach has the right to his opinions, those opinions of Mr. Farish are not shared by the rest of the council or our city. Mr. Farish has served this country and our community well for many years and we feel the personal attack from Mr. Schlabach was out of bounds. His statements went well beyond what we would consider civil discourse and we feel they were unwarranted and less than professional.”