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What happened to that guy who was supposed to revive the county's sagging image?

Mike Moran just can't understand why El Paso County would hire a veteran public-relations chief and then send him packing just a few months later.

Himself a PR guy for the Colorado Springs Sports Corp. and the U.S. Olympic Committee before that, Moran saw Ron Kole, who was suddenly laid off earlier this month, as capable of navigating the "controversies and image crisis facing El Paso County."

"It's very disappointing," says Moran, who helped the county weed through more than 100 rsums before recommending Kole, who came from Spokane, Wash., with 30 years of PR expertise in government, private sector and military positions.

But Kole and four other high-level county workers lost their positions, while another vacant post was eliminated, as part of a county plan to save $584,000 amid a tight budget. Add that figure to $7.2 million in cuts or "budget savings," depending on your view to the county's 2007 budget, which are causing headache and heartache in several departments.

Internal auditor Salena DiMatteo, assistant auditor Kathy Harrison, development services director Dick Anderwald and planning review manager Sarah Tresouthick also saw their positions eliminated.

Commission chairwoman Sallie Clark says the decision was tough but had to be made, given the budget situation.

"We're emptying our own trash these days," she says.

It means fewer people are doing the same amount of work in a county government that commissioners last week voted 4-1 to reorganize, she adds.

As such, Bill Louis, formerly chief county attorney, is now one of two new deputy county administrators. He joins facilities director Monnie Gore to head, respectively, external and internal government several departments rolled into two. Louis and Gore will make $116,000 each. Jeff Greene, the new county administrator who replaced the recently retired Terry Harris, heads the county government.

On the PR side, it leaves Bailey Becker, who has nearly five years of experience, all of it with the county, and Julie Johnson, a recent college grad who joined the county last summer.

And the commission can be rowdy. Late last year, for example, County Commissioner Douglas Bruce clashed with Louis, dubbing him "Citizen Louis" as Louis labeled Bruce a "narcissist, sociopath and crackpot enabler."

Moran wouldn't expound upon what he considers to be an "image crisis," but said the public doesn't appear to be hearing about the county's good stories.

Becker, meanwhile, was stunned to hear there was a crisis.

"First time I've heard of that," she said, adding that she and Johnson are up to the task of handling commissioners' PR.

Also, the Sheriff's Office, District Attorney's Office and health department have independent PR staffs.

Kole, who could not be reached for comment, is the second veteran to exit the county's top PR job in two years.

In 2005, Ann Ervin, a former television reporter, left after about four years on the job under circumstances shrouded in mysterious legalese. She received a $32,000 parachute about half her annual pay in a settlement agreement in exchange for never again seeking employment with the county and agreeing not to sue the county for "any claim of retaliatory treatment."

None of the five employees whose jobs were eliminated had contracts. All are technically on "administrative leave" as of Jan. 11, according to newly promoted county attorney Jay Lauer.

Asked if they are still receiving pay, he said, "Those are pending personnel matters."

deyoanna@csindy.com

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