CANON CITY, Colo. - In an effort to save the county's reputation from being damaged by, potentially, months of litigation, the Fremont County Board of Commissioners asked County Clerk Katie Barr to resign her post in light of allegations that she misused taxpayer money.
The board met Tuesday in Canon City and unanimously voted "no confidence" in Barr, following a letter sent to her last week explaining why the board wanted her to resign.
"There really wasn't a response," Tim Payne, board chairman, said of Barr's private meeting with commissioners. "She was pretty tight-lipped about it, and left the room pretty much immediately after. We met her at a neutral location."
Barr is accused of embezzling more than $220,000 in county funds by writing checks to cover insufficient funds in several accounts, including one belonging to her husband and his business.
Fremont County officials said no money is missing, but the illegal practice is known as "check-kiting," and is improper for someone in an important elected position.
Affidavits also allege that Barr told people in her office not to discuss the irregular activities.
She's charged with embezzlement of public property, harassment, intimidation of a witness and fraud by check.
In a letter to Barr dated April 5, the board said it acknowledged that Barr hasn't been found guilty of any crimes but said the case "could linger on in the court system for months while continuing to damage the county's reputation."
The board also said employees in the Clerk and Recorder's office are in an "untenable situation" because they're the same people that Barr is accused of intimidating.With several elections set for this year, the board pointed out that public confidence in the results may be questioned because of the controversy. (PHOTOS)
"Only your resignation will return immediate confidence, stability, and integrity to the office," the board wrote. "Your controversy is hurting everyone in Fremont County -- taxpayers, employees, and other elected officials."
Barr didn't provide a comment Tuesday. She hasn't returned to work in the three weeks since her arrest, and was cited in the letter as having "sporadic attendance" since last fall when an investigation began.
Yet she was told by commissioners to stay away from work.
The situation puts commissioners in an awkward position. Barr is an elected official and, by law, can't be fired unless she is convicted of a felony. She continues to collect her $72,500 base salary that could be reduced by commissioners, but they hope she'll resign instead.
"I think her resignation at this moment in time would prove to people that they understand the public has lost faith and confidence in her ability to do the job, that she does have morals, that she does have standards, that she has character and she knows that it's the right thing to do," said Commissioner Debbie Bell.
Most citizens seem to agree with commissioners that Barr should resign.
"While I hate to see her punished when she hasn't been proven guilty of anything, at the same time we can't have somebody in office who's not doing right by the system," said Susan Truitt.
But Cameron Marques disagrees.
"I think she's innocent until proven guilty," he said. "People should have a right and have a chance to say and prove themselves wrong or right."
Payne said other options to oppose Barr include a voter recall or a defeat in either the primary or general election later this year.
"She hasn't filed any re-election paperwork yet," he said. "We hope the situation will take care of itself at that point."
In a related matter, Canon City was surprised by the unexpected resignation of City Clerk Cathy Rabe, effective last weekend. Her resignation letter reportedly cited health reasons as a factor.