“Runaway Commissioner” Selected to Key County Advisory Board

Photo by The Herald News

Long-time residents may question appointment

Dennis Luttrell of Divide to serve as a regular member of the Teller Planning Commission.

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

One of Teller County’s more controversial and high profile former commissioners, dubbed by some critics as the “runaway commissioner,” has returned to the planning spotlight.

Last week, in an extremely brief meeting, the county commissioners unanimously selected Dennis Luttrell of Divide to serve as a regular member of the Teller Planning Commission. His term will extend until Jan. 2021.

According to the county staff, Luttrell, who moved back to the area from New England, sent a letter expressing his interest in serving on the planning commission, maintaining that he could provide the group with needed services.

In making their appointment, the commissioners touted his previous experience as a Teller commissioner and expertise as a government manager. He served as town manager/administrator for a number of communities in the New England area. Commissioner Dave Paul cited Luttrell’s resume as extremely impressive.

Absent from their comments, though, were any of the controversies that plagued Luttrell in his dealings with the county in the past that ended in a rather ugly fashion. In fact, Luttrell was essentially booted out of Teller politics by former GOP leaders largely due to these conflicts.

Insiders say it almost marked an end to an unusual era of local politics, when the area reeled in an unprecedented growth boom, then encountered a severe economic crash and ended with the push for limited stakes gaming. And on the political side, the area was bombarded with allegations of good ol’ boy dealings, questionable development decisions and closed door government meetings, with the area changing from an isolated rural burg to one of the fastest growing counties in the United States.

Photo by The Herald News

Luttrell served as a county commissioner from 1983 to 1990, according to a resume posted online by a Massachusetts newspaper. According to insiders, his initial elected term was quite successful, as he gained an appointment as a state wildlife commissioner and was touted for dealing with the growth and land use issues that bombarded the county. Luttrell easily won a re-election bid in 1986, according to records.

But his final term was rocked by a barrage of outright bizarre controversies, dealing with bitter fights with his neighbors, several of which involved the sheriff’s office; heated battles with other elected officials, such as the Teller assessor; spars with the local media, including the predecessor company of TMJ, The High Mountain Sun newspaper; and allegations of trying to use his position in a vindictive manner to punish those who opposed him.

When he sought re-election in 1990, the patience of GOP leaders apparently drew thin and he failed to even gain 10 votes in the county’s Republican Assembly. It was one of the worst showings of an incumbent office-goer in modern Teller history. This vote essentially ended Luttrell’s political career in Teller County.

Luttrell, in an apparent act of protest, then switched his party allegiance to the Democratic side, according to a photo in the Ute Pass Courier. In a subsequent commissioners meeting, he then told his peers and staff he had to attend to family matters in Massachusetts.

Only one big problem surfaced with this announcement:  He never came back, gaining the nickname as the “runaway commissioner” by some critics. This led to a legal showdown, with county officials claiming he was stiffing the taxpayers by significant monies. They researched their alternatives and even contacted the District Attorney’s Office.

Eventually an agreement was reportedly reached between the county and Luttrell, when the former commissioner returned for his final meeting, a showdown that nearly came to blows. In his resume, Luttrell lists August as the ending of his employment with Teller County, which is months before his term was supposed to expire.

An Impressive Career As Town Manager

During his lengthy time in Massachusetts, Luttrell developed an impressive career as town administrator/manager representing such communities as Somerset, Sherborn, Tisbury and Vineyard Haven, which are mostly located in Massachusetts.

But even in New England, his stint wasn’t without controversy. In one of his most recent posts as manager in a town in New Hampshire in the White Mountains, Luttrell in 2016 was suspended by the Lebanon City Council, which asserted its “intent to terminate his employment,” only six months after taking the job, according to Massachusetts media reports. This shortly followed a decision by elected leaders in Somerset, Massachusetts not to renew his contract as town administrator.

He also was the subject of several newspaper editorials that heavily criticized certain actions he took, such as feuds he had with a town treasurer in Somerset, Massachusetts, with a local newspaper accusing Luttrell of making up stories regarding the treasurer failing to deposit a $3 million check. “Luttrell ought to be ashamed of himself  for these antics. It is just another example of how Luttrell is adding to problems at Town Hall rather than working to resolve them,” said the Herald News in Somerset, Massachusetts.

It’s unclear if many long-time residents remember the legacy of Dennis Luttrell, who became a familiar cartoon character in the High Mountain Sun. Still, the former commissioner had his share of supporters in his past dealings in both Colorado and Massachusetts. At one time, Luttrell even assisted the Teller government in confronting  a burgeoning trash crisis, serving as a mini-consultant.

Not A Big Deal

Teller County Administrator Sheryl Decker stressed that the recent appointment is a voluntary assignment, with no financial compensation, and that Luttrell was interviewed by the board of commissioners. She also indicated that board was made aware of some of the past issues that occurred between Luttrell and the county.

In addition, Decker noted that the county is currently struggling to fill several of its advisory boards, and desperately needs volunteers. Even with the appointment of Luttrell, the planning commission still has two vacancies, according to Lynda Morgan director of community development services. The main criteria and requirement of a planning commission member is that he/she reside in the county.

The county commissioners could not be reached for comment late last week to elaborate on the recent appointment decision, prior to the newspaper’s deadline.

Incoming county commissioner Bob Campbell indicated he had little knowledge of past disputes between the county and Luttrell. He said he just met the former commissioner at a July 4 event in Woodland Park. “I really don’t know the man, so I cannot really comment,” said Campbell.

Regardless of any controversies regarding his past, the new planning commissioner, who owns a ranch in Teller with his wife Hilliard, won’t have much time for reflection or  bickering about past media coverage in Teller County and in Massachusetts.

Luttrell will have to hit the ground running with his new role, as the planning commission is dealing with some hotbed issues surrounding new camping and temporary housing regulations, and attempts to rein in the growing tide of vagrant campers and homeless camping. Nov. 13 will mark the first official meeting that Luttrell assumes his new post.