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CDC retains executive director

Behind closed doors and in executive session on March 3, the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation agreed to retain its executive director, Steve Vassallo, through April 1, 2011, a move buying time after Vassallo submitted a letter of resignation to the CDC board of directors at the board’s Feb. 28 meeting.

Immediately following the nearly two-hour executive session, the board issued a statement reading, “The Pagosa Springs Community Development Board has agreed to continue Steve Vassallo’s contract through April 1, 2011 and is negotiating to retain his future services.”

When SUN staff asked board president and spokesman Mike Alley to elaborate on the statement, Alley responded only with, “We’ll be going through negotiations to extend the contract.”

During the CDC’s Feb. 28 meeting, Alley read Vassallo’s resignation, a portion of which read, “Due to the recent negative publicity in media outlets, it is apparent the CDC’s Mission Statement is in direct conflict with these opinions. This community along with the CDC cannot create jobs or enhance economic stability as a divided community.”

Following the Feb. 28 meeting, Vassallo stated that “negative publicity in media outlets” referred to the editorial in the previous week’s edition of The SUN, as well as a series of articles published on The Pagosa Daily Post website.

The SUN editorial had questioned the CDC’s funding by public money (almost $130,000), its involvement in event planning and promotion, and the ultimate role of the CDC in local economic development, but never mentioned Vassallo by name.

However, Vassallo (as executive director for the CDC) has recently come under fire from several members of the community for several perceived missteps, including speaking out in support of the proposed Village at Wolf Creek development, not contracting a local company for the development of the CDC’s website (along with the fact that Vassallo’s wife is associated with the firm that developed the website) and committing a venue for one of the CDC’s planned events that involved a contentious land lease deal between the county and the group promoting that event.

It was revealed earlier this week that the event — a “Nashville Songwriter’s Symposium” slated for early July — has been cancelled with no announced plans to revive or reschedule the event.

It was in the midst of these controversies, and the subsequent reporting by the press (including the aforementioned editorial), that Vassallo tendered his resignation to the CDC.

Nevertheless, the CDC voted unanimously to reject Vassallo’s resignation on Feb. 28 and scheduled the March 3 meeting (with a possible executive session) to consider Vassallo’s contract with the CDC and, ostensibly, convince him to stay on as executive director.

Prior to the board calling an executive session, SUN staff requested that protocols for Colorado’s Open Meetings law be followed prior to the board closing its doors to the press. Board alternate (and Pagosa Springs Town Manager) David Mitchem stated that, as a private corporation with a 501(c)(3) tax status, the CDC was not subject to the Open Meeting statute.

SUN staff responded that, while the CDC (as a private corporation) had no strict legal obligation to adhere to Open Meeting statutes, the fact that it was taxpayer funded suggested an ethical obligation to meet statutory requirements.

The board agreed to follow protocols regarding convening in executive session.

Nearly two hours later, Alley presented the brief statement regarding Vassallo’s continued relationship with the CDC.

The CDC will ostensibly determine Vassallo’s future as executive director on April 1 after a month of contract negotiations. Although the terms of that contract (whether revised or not) may not be released to the public, the record will show whether or not Vassallo continues to direct the CDC through 2011 or if those negotiations produce another direction for the organization.

However, a decision could possibly occur before April 1. The CDC announced Wednesday that an executive session will be held tomorrow at 3 p.m. in the CDC board room. The announced purpose of the session is to “discuss the executive director position and personnel matters pertaining to such position.”

jim@pagosasun.com

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