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The growing problem of upside at the expense of others

What makes a community fragile? While many might say debt or lack of job opportunities, the answer lies in allowing some members of the community to have an upside at the expense of others. In other words, it is allowing some people to have no skin-in-the-game and face no consequences if they make horrible mistakes. In the words of the risk expert Nassim Taleb, “which brings us to the largest fragilizer of society, and greatest generator of crises, absence of ‘skin in the game.’ Some become antifragile at the expense of others by getting the upside (or gains) from volatility, variations, and disorder and exposing others to the downside risks of losses or harm.”

Custer County has specialized in providing upside to favored individuals if they pledge loyalty to the right power structure. And if those people make mistakes, it’s no big deal; the taxpayers and the less favored individuals of the community will pay the costs for those mistakes. The community is becoming more fragile every time this transfer of risk takes place.

Take the example of the Sheriff’s new Chief of Staff, Michael DeLaurentis. By all accounts detailed in the Tribune’s investigation into DeLaurentis during his nine years as Chief of Florence, he retired, leaving not only a wrecked police department but also a wrecked city. Despite causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits the city and the insurance co-op had to pay, he seems to have also left the evidence department so disorganized as to now be considered worthless, lost the city a grant for federal equipment, likely sexually harassed an employee of the town, possibly knew that the city manager was repeatedly sexually harassing staff members, used city funds to finish work on a new house in the Wet Mountains, verbally berated staff to the point of official condemnation, and possibly committed other questionable actions that are still under active investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the District Attorney’s Office.

What price did he pay for the damage he caused in Florence? So far, no cost has been imposed on him. Not only did he keep his salary during his nine years, but when he retired, he received a severance package, which was unknown to the city council in 2019, for $32,284.50. He enjoys his full retirement benefits from the State of Colorado and likely Illinois. In addition, when he decided he wanted to earn some extra income, all he had to do was call up an old Florence colleague, current Custer County Sheriff Rich Smith. Smith promptly fired an administrator and victims advocate, who is a member of the community and has kids in the school system, to free up the money for DeLaurentis. The employee who was fired to free up funds for the newly created position of Chief of Staff had no disciplinary record and received a series of promotions and awards for her work. DeLaurentis gets to enjoy 18 hours of work at $36 an hour at the expense of the terminated employee. In addition, the county now runs a much higher risk of the same legal trouble that continues to dog DeLaurentis from his objectively disastrous leadership in Florence. Any possible future lawsuits or investigations will be footed by the taxpayers of Custer County and the taxpayers that fund the insurance company covering the county government. DeLaurentis faces no downsides if anything goes wrong in the future.

However, the hiring of DeLaurentis is just the most recent pattern of providing favored local bureaucrats with an upside at the expense of others. In 2021, the Tribune showed extensive evidence that the Public Health Director Clifford Brown has a fraudulent Master of Public Health Degree and no experience in vaccinations or the other duties of a public health office. While he might have experience as an optometrist, the fact is that he lied about his degree when he was hired in 2020 at a starting salary of around $54,000 a year. Not only was he not fired for presenting a fraudulent diploma on his resume, but through a series of grants he has also managed to increase his salary to $71,852 in 2023 without approval from the Board of Health. The Tribune is waiting for the new report to see if his salary has increased even more. During his time as director, he has repeatedly printed articles and given interviews about vaccines that threw doubt on the effectiveness of many standard vaccines. If anything goes wrong when people listen to his uneducated medical advice on vaccines, he will pay no price; but others will.

And, of course, the primary source of all this granting of bureaucratic upside at the expense of others in the community is Commissioner Bill Canda. Anytime I have pointed out the fraud or questionable backgrounds of some members of county government, Commissioner Canda has been all too eager to wage war against the Tribune. It started with him protecting his friend Clifford Brown by using a government contract for legal publications to punish the Tribune for our reporting and violating our First Amendment rights. Canda then ignored requests to mediate the situation, forcing a lawsuit. Commissioner Canda would have continued to use government resources in the lawsuit if it had not been for the fact that the insurance company parted ways with Canda, forcing him to hire personal legal representation. Only when the lawsuit hit Canda’s personal checkbook did he decide to settle with the Tribune. However, the county and its insurance company, not Canda, paid the settlement for the Tribune’s legal costs.

More recently, Canda has stated that even asking for an investigation into some of his actions by this author was “probably criminal.” In other words, journalism is a crime.

I wish I could say that was the end of the conversation, but it is not. Last Saturday, Sheriff Rich Smith and Bill Canda held a “Gideon 300 training” with Joe Oltmann. In a mock situation, the Sheriff and a group of citizens engaged in civil disobedience at a “commissioners meeting” until the “commissioners” bowed to the group’s demands. Oltmann is an extremist who has been calling for the execution of any state or national leader that he disagrees with. In addition, Oltmann is on the losing side of a defamation lawsuit when he falsely claimed he had sat in on a phone call with a former Dominion voting machine executive where the plans to overthrow the election were discussed. At the end of last Saturday’s training, Sheriff Rich Smith received a “battle ax to lead his people into battle” at an upcoming commissioners meeting and a pledge from Sheriff Smith that he and his officers would not arrest anyone using “peaceful force” to influence commissioner votes.

And what happens if any of these stupid ideas at the training last week are implemented and go horribly wrong? Well, nothing to those in office. Because they have upside at the expense of others.

– Jordan Hedberg

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