Highest paid County employee burns candle at both ends

JoAnn Kalenak, Delta County Citizen Report (DCCR) — Holding a second job to help ends meet isn’t usually considered a problem, but when it comes to taxpayer funded jobs, government employers generally err on the side of caution. Delta County Administrator Robbie LeValley doesn’t have a problem, however, with one of her top department heads moonlighting for another government entity despite concerns from local residents about overlapping time schedules and conflicts of interest.
 
For the past four-plus months, Elyse Ackerman-Casselberry, Delta County’s Community and Economic Development Director and head of the County’s planning department, has also been working as the Town of Collbran’s Town Administrator and Planner — and she’s making big bucks doing it.
 
On top of her full-time job managing a busy department for Delta County, Casselberry signed an open-ended service contract with the Town of Collbran on August 8 of this year and has logged an average of 25 hours per week, including drive time, since then. The three-page list of services Casselberry has agreed to perform range from the supervision of town department heads and the town’s budget to reviewing all land use and development applications.
 
In email communications, County Administrator Robbie LeValley responded to questions about Casselberry’s time commitment to the Town of Collbran given her Monday through Thursday office schedule at Delta County. As Casselberry’s immediate supervisor, LeValley was required to approve the moonlighting request according to Delta County’s personnel policy. The policy, however, states that outside employment must not conflict with assigned working hours.
 
“Elyse is working with Collbran as a consulting manager on a very part time basis. The subdivision and development applications, questions, permits, and overall activity have significantly increased for the entire (Delta County) planning department…”
 
“Additionally, she is directing a number of projects including several for other departments in the County. Elyse is doing all of this simultaneously so if she at times appears distracted then I would say appropriately so,” said LeValley.
 
Casselberry’s Delta County timesheet and her invoices to the Town of Collbran show considerable overlap in schedules between the two positions. She currently spends most Tuesdays, Fridays and other dispersed hours throughout the work-week fulfilling her Collbran contract while averaging 36 hours per week doing her Delta County job. Several days add up to 17 or more hours — Oct. 2 adds up to 28 hours — where Casselberry claimed to be working for either Delta County or Collbran.
 
Between the two jobs, Casselberry is doing well financially, especially for a public servant. At an average of $14,424 per month (annualized to over $173,000 per year), Casselberry’s income from the taxpayers is in the top one percentile of all wage distribution shares in Delta County.
 
Casselberry’s earnings come from her $91,800 annual County salary (due to go up to $94,994 in 2019) and outside contract fees from her work with Collbran. Through an open records request, DCCR discovered that Casselberry has billed the Town of Collbran $27,097 since she signed her new contract in August, which includes travel expenses to-and-from Collbran. According to Casselberry’s contract, the Town of Collbran has agreed to pay her $70 per hour for administrator work, $85 per hour for planning, and $35 per hour for travel time.
 
LeValley defended Casselberry’s high County salary (the position was advertised in early 2017 at a starting salary of $57,000 per year) citing her experience in economic development, long-range planning, grant writing, public administration and finances, public policy, community engagement, and strategic planning. Casselberry is the county’s highest paid employee per hour — $57 per hour, not including benefits. The County Technical Services, Inc., 2018 County Salary Survey lists the average hourly rate for a department head and planner in comparable counties as $39.25 per hour and $27.20 per hour respectively.
 
DCCR received no reply from LeValley about possible conflict of interest issues that might arise from Casselberry’s duel roles — beyond time-schedule conflicts — including disclosing non-public information, economic development competition, and public representation conflicts. The county’s personnel policy prohibits an employee from taking outside employment that could conflict with the interests of Delta County but the policy does not detail what constitutes a conflict. Most government employees in Colorado have ethics rules, however, that recommend employees avoid taking a job that might give an appearance of impropriety. These ethics rules further recommend a recusal agreement with the outside employer in the event a conflict should happen. No such recusal clause currently exits in Casselberry’s contract with Collbran.
 
Under the direction of Casselberry, the County’s planning department has come under fire from county residents for issues concerning the Master Plan update outcomes; the unnoticed road name change of Last Chance Road; recommending approval of a commercial chicken barn on Fruitland Mesa without an agricultural water source or traffic study; and the handling of recent TDS tower installations and two Gunnison Energy seismic testing applicants as “minor developments” circumventing Planning Commission review and public hearings.
 
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JoAnn Kalenak is a blogger for Delta County Citizen Report, a nonprofit media organization reporting on local county government activity. She can be reached at citizenreport1@gmail.com