Elbert County’s embattled Tea Party commissioner won’t run again

Love him or hate him, voters won’t have the chance to re-elect Elbert County Tea Party member and commissioner Robert Rowland next November. He said Monday he will not run again.

Since 2013, Rowland has feuded with his rural county’s few Democrats, his fellow Republican commissioners, and government watchdogs who have accused him of ethics violations. He has cost his largely rural county more than $20,000 in legal fees and pledged in a recent meeting that the number could amount to hundreds of thousands more as he swings at his political enemies for lies they spread about him, as he tells it.

His years as a commissioner have been dotted with scandals. Less than a year after taking office, a judge slapped him with a $1000 fine for breaking campaign finance rules by subtly pushing a mill levy to fix the county’s finances. Rowland admitted that he and his fellow commissioners broke the law. After a year of legal-wrangling and appeals, he wrote a check and then promptly reimbursed himself from the county’s coffers. It wasn’t until two weeks ago that he finally paid the long-contested $1,000 that cost his county $21,986 to fight, unsuccessfully.

Rowland made his announcement he would not run three weeks after a fight broke out at a Nov. 18 meeting. His first move that night was to step down as chair of the three-member commission.

After that, one of his fellow commissioners tried to fire county attorney Wade Gately, who had represented them in numerous legal battles including the campaign finance fight. In a letter written by fellow Republican Commissioner Kelly Dore, Gately was cited for his inability to handle the board’s and county’s legal affairs. The letter specifically identified Gately’s handling of the campaign finance problem and working only with Rowland on county business, excluding other commissioners.

The meeting turned into a verbal brawl when county clerk Dallas Schroeder pounced on Dore and Commissioner Larry Ross, demanding they step down because of their lack of leadership and their efforts to can Gately. Six other elected officials sent a letter calling for their resignation. And Rowland, himself, blasted them for going behind his back to fire Gately and lying about being unaware that the county reimbursed his $1000 fine. The crowd cheered the attacks against Dore and Ross.

Dore defended herself, saying a March resolution on covering legal expenses for the commissioners said nothing about Rowland’s reimbursement and that she didn’t learn that Rowland had been paid back by the county until she was contacted in September by “the paper,” The Colorado Independent.

Rowland didn’t escape the meeting unscathed. County Assessor Billie Mills said all three commissioners needed to learn to cooperate. “I’m for people trying to make it work,” she said. But the money spent on lawsuits is “inexcusable and the county deserves better.”

After the furor, the three commissioners let Gately keep his job.  

Monday, Rowland penned a letter he distributed countywide pledging to endorse a conservative candidate for his and Ross’ seats in November’s election and outlining a vision for a better conservative future in Elbert County.

“I will not be delicate or politically correct in pointing out the records and the facts about those I believe are detrimental to that future, and who I believe are either not competent or honest in who they are,” including Ross, Rowland wrote. “I will continue to support honest, proven conservative candidates and do my best to expose anyone who does not represent the conservative principles and values of the majority of citizens in this county.”

He also said he would continue to speak out against a “small, radical and loud group” [Elbert County Democrats] whose mission seems to be only to disrupt and damage the county in ways that are dishonest and that simply do not make sense.   And I will do my best to oppose and expose anyone who collaborates with these destructive persons, including my fellow Commissioners.”

Correction 12/16/15: The original photo associated with this article showed a courthouse in Elbert County, Georgia, not Colorado. 

Photo credit: Jeff Ruane, Creative Commons, Flickr

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.