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A job done with courage and heart

There is a change of the guard underway on the county commission.

Bob Moomaw has served on the board for four years; his final meeting was Tuesday. Michael Whiting begins a four-year stint next week.

It is a much different situation now than that which presented itself four years ago, when Moomaw began his duties.

It is, to a meaningful extent, a result of what Moomaw has done the past four years that the situation is considerably different, and certainly more positive now that it was when he joined the fray.

Remember back, if you will, to the condition county government was in four years ago.

The county was on the edge of disaster. The county’s finances were a wreck. No, that is soft-peddling the situation: The county’s finances had been destroyed. The county was in the ICU, on life support.

The problems showed up as early as 2003, when an audit report alluded to difficulties. The problem was clear in 2004, when yet another audit report ran up the red flag.

Nothing was done to avert the impending crash.

To oversimplify: Archuleta County had overspent – on substantial increases in staffing, programs and processes desired by the residents of the county. Money from other funds was used to compensate for General Fund shortfalls. The financial field was riddled with the debris left behind by poor accounting and record keeping.

The county had run through two interim county administrators – Kathy Holthus left in 2005; Bob Jasper left the next year. Bob Campbell was hired in 2006, and would last into 2007. The county finance director and county treasurer were flatfooted and stammering in the middle of the maelstrom, befuddled at best, both soon to depart.

Moreover, the county commission was as dysfunctional as any in memory, perhaps more dysfunctional than any here, ever.

Morale among other elected officials and staff members had plummeted to a despairing low point.

It was truly grim.

That is what Moomaw stepped into. Willingly, and with the county’s best interests at heart.

Things did not get better overnight.

A Citizens’ Advisory Task Force helped with the heavy lifting, fighting a current that saw the county’s tax revenues frozen by the state. There were problems with a forensic audit.

Then, things began to clear. A new and competent finance director was brought on board and did yeoman work. Greg Schulte was hired to head the administration.

By the end of 2008, the county was in the black, following several drastic cuts in staff and funds to departments. The commission itself, one of the major stumbling blocks to progress, changed suddenly with the election of Clifford Lucero and John Ranson two years ago. In 2011, the county is back of solid ground, and now taking steps to ensure that a disaster of the likes we experienced those few years ago will never happen again. The General Fund balance is now more than 700 percent better than it was at the start of 2008.

We made it by the skin of our teeth. And we made it, in a very significant way, due to the efforts of Bob Moomaw.

As is the case with anyone who holds public office, Moomaw is criticized more than he is praised. There are legitimate complaints about the performance of any public official, arguments with opinions and policies, problems with projects. But, given the difficulty of the circumstances Moomaw faced during his tenure, great credit must be given to a man who faced those circumstances squarely, who had the courage to do battle when many might have fled, and who served his community well.

Karl Isberg