Scott Schwebke

MONTROSE -- An attempt to mediate a lawsuit filed by former Montrose Regional Airport Manager Dave Miller against Montrose County to challenge his firing has apparently failed.

Montrose County officials failed to compromise during the arbitration hearing held Tuesday in Denver, with was conducted by former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Tony Vollack, Miller said.

"I had a lot of confidence in this (former) judge and I think that he could have come up with something favorable and reasonable for both sides," Miller said. "But apparently it broke down on the part of the county."

Montrose County Commission Chairwoman Betsey Hale said the BOCC is unwilling to alter its position on Miller's firing through mediation.

"We don't see any need to negotiate," she said.

Miller said the failed arbitration means he will take his case against the county to trial. A trial date has not been set.

Miller was fired by Montrose County Manager Dennis Hunt last May for alleged mismanagement and dishonesty. He is presently employed as manager of the St. Louis Regional Airport in East Alton, Ill.

During Tuesday's arbitration, he and his attorney, Michael Reagor of Denver, met separately with Vollack for about an hour. Vollack then met privately with Montrose County Attorney Jim Fritze.

Miller said that after meeting with Fritze, Vollack reported he was "unable to make progress."

Fritze could not be reached for comment regarding what he discussed with Vollack.

The mediation followed a lawsuit filed by Miller last September in Montrose County District Court. District Court requires that parties involved in civil suits attempt an "alternate dispute resolution" such as mediation before a case is bound over for trial to resolve the matter efficiently.

Miller alleges he has suffered economic losses, including earnings and benefits he would have received had he continued his employment at the airport. He also contends his firing constitutes a breach of an alleged implied employment contract he had with the county.

Miller said that during the arbitration he informed Vollack that Montrose County Commissioner Betsey Hale told him during a job interview luncheon in March 2001 he could only be terminated "for cause."

Montrose County officials have disputed that claim and maintain Miller was an "at will" employee.

Hale has previously maintained she never told Miller he could only be terminated "for cause," and even if she had county commissioners Dave Ubell or Leo Large would have had to ratify the agreement.

Hale has also noted Miller signed a county personnel manual after he was hired that repeatedly states workers are employed "at will."

Several other county officials were present at the luncheon and none recall hearing Hale tell Miller he could only be terminated "for cause," Fritze has said.

Contact Scott Schwebke via e-mail at scotts@montrosepress.com.

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