PPACG executive and senior staff on indefinite leave 

click to enlarge Rob McDonald was placed on leave. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Rob McDonald was placed on leave.

The Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments executive committee voted unanimously on Dec. 22 to place executive director Rob MacDonald and two other senior staff on indefinite administrative leave.

The committee also voted to appoint Rick Sonnenburg as acting executive director, while placing transportation director Craig Casper and Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (PPRTA) finance manager Beverly Majewski on leave. All of the leaves are paid.

Sonnenburg oversees the PPRTA under the PPACG umbrella; his salary is $97,488, compared with MacDonald's $136,654.

Committee Chairman Andy Pico, a Colorado Springs city councilor, said issues that led to the actions will be resolved within a month. MacDonald's contract comes up for renewal in January, and there are indications it won't be renewed.

Asked if the loss of multiple PPACG managers will hobble its mission, he said, "Absolutely not. We're moving forward."

The actions come amid a board investigation of MacDonald's oversight of PPACG, which was sharply criticized by employees, one of whom described the work environment as "retired in place."

Elected officials also say they want more robust leadership on transportation issues ("What about Rob?," News, Oct. 26).

Hired in 1999, MacDonald reports to a board composed of elected officials from 16 cities, towns and counties in the PPACG service area, which covers El Paso, Teller and Park counties. PPACG, formed in 1967, provides a forum for local officials to deal with issues that cross boundaries, with the primary focus on transportation, air and water quality and the federally-funded Area Agency on Aging.

The agency also administers the PPRTA, supported with a 1 percent sales tax in El Paso County, and oversees millions of dollars in state, federal and local funding for roads.

MacDonald came under scrutiny after nearly a third of the agency's employees left within two years. When reporting the departures to the board and posting the report on the agency's website, MacDonald disclosed reasons they left. The report drew objections from at least three ex-employees, who called the reasons given by MacDonald "false," not "entirely true" and "blatantly false."

In addition, one former employee, Dawn Meyer, filled an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint against PPACG alleging she was fired after being diagnosed with cancer ("PPACG employee claims she was fired because of her illness," News, Dec. 7).

Despite receiving performance bonuses for years, Meyer described in an interview a hostile work atmosphere in which her supervisor, Majewski, yelled at her, her personal medical and financial information was given to others, and she was refused accommodation for her illness, despite a doctor's request. She was pushed out in May 2016.

In addition, the agency has failed to play any role in pursuing funding for widening Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock. While the 17-mile stretch isn't within the PPACG planning area, it appears little has been done to rally support from neighboring jurisdictions and the state. Only on Dec. 21 did the PPACG issue a release saying that "gap" was the agency's top priority.

The PPACG executive committee — composed of Colorado Springs City Councilor Jill Gaebler, El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey, Green Mountain Falls town trustee Tyler Stevens and Pico — voted unanimously to place the employees on leave.

Afterward, Pico said the senior staff members' leaves are pending further performance review, and while MacDonald's initial job review has taken place, other evaluation is ongoing. Committee member Norm Steen of Teller County did not attend the meeting.

MacDonald declined to comment following the actions.

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