The Uncertain Redemption of Steve Vassallo, Part One
Bill Hudson | 3/1/11
“It is with deep regret that I submit my resignation effective February 28, 2011..”

Thus begins Steve Vassallo’s letter of resignation, as read aloud by Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation chair Mike Alley yesterday afternoon, during a packed meeting at the Technology Suites offices in Aspen Village.  About 50 people — elected officials, Steve Vassallo supporters, news reporters, consultants, business owners, and interested ordinary citizens — jammed the tiny conference room next door to Steve Vassallo's office, which is just down a short hallway from County commissioner John Ranson’s Priority One business office, and from the offices of several other small Pagosa businesses.

Mr. Vassallo’s one-page resignation letter had begun with the private, non-profit corporation’s “Mission Statement”.

“The mission of the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation is to enhance the quality of life for the citizens of Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County by creating quality new jobs; encouraging new capital investment; and creating an environment that increases tourism...”

Mr. Vassallo’s letter noted, “I have included the PSCDC’s Mission Statement above to demonstrate the conditions for which I was hired...”  He noted that the Mission Statement (as wonderfully vague as mission statements must always be) had been based on “priorities established by 130 local community leaders.”

Indeed, one of the first actions taken by Steve Vassallo when he began working for the taxpayer-subsidized PSCDC last August, was to meet with community leaders and develop a Mission Statement.

The 50 people who had packed the PSCDC meeting yesterday, however, had not come to discuss a wonderfully vague, uplifting and positive Mission Statement.  They had come to hear an open, honest discussion of several issues that Mr. Vassallo completely failed to address in his resignation letter — the issues that had led to some of the most dramatic community controversy in recent Pagosa history, controversy generated by the actions taken by Mr. Vassallo and the PSCDC board during the first six months of the young organization’s existence.

At the end of the meeting, the four remaining members of the PSCDC board of directors — Pagosa mayor Ross Aragon, LPEA line supervisor Mike Alley, First Southwest Bank vice president Marion Francis, and County commissioner John Ranson — meekly voted not to accept Mr. Vassallo’s resignation.

The same board, however, did accept a second resignation letter — from PSCDC Marketing Director Alysha Lister, commissioner John Ranson’s daughter.

The board accepted the wrong resignation, in other words.

During the six months that I have been writing about the PSCDC, I have found Alysha Lister to be professional, unbiased, efficient, honest, and extraordinarily helpful.

I have found Mr. Vassallo, meanwhile, to be talented at hiring his friends from out of town, blowing his own horn, kissing up to local politicians, making misleading and false statements, and getting other people to do the work he was hired to do.

I can most certainly understand why Ms. Lister chose to step down as Marketing Director.  She is eight months pregnant and had found herself thrown into the midst of a very uncomfortable controversy — a controversy she had played very little part in creating, other than agreeing to work for a private company that her father, John Ranson, had voted to subsidize with taxpayer funds.  She had also continued to work in Mr. Ranson’s own private company, Priority One — and based on my own observations, she had found herself doing much of Mr. Vassallo's job for him.

And I suppose we can understand why Mr. Vassallo was unable to do the work himself. 

Although he was being paid a salary of $100,000 a year — coming largely from taxpayer subsidies of $127,000 coming from the Town and County governments — Mr. Vassallo was spending much of his time in Snyder, Texas, working as that community’s economic development consultant; and he has continued serving as President of the Scandinavian American Economic Alliance; and it appears, based on a recent Internet posting from the mayor of Central City, Louisiana,, that Mr. Vassallo had also begun working as an economic development consultant for that small town as well.

But Mr. Vassallo’s resignation letter did not address any of the controversy surrounding his six-month tenure here.  His short letter only referred vaguely to “our progress” and then blamed the controversy — not on any actions taken by himself or the PSCDC — but on “recent negative publicity in media outlets.”

“Due to the recent negative publicity in media outlets, it is apparent that the CDC’s Mission Statement is in direct conflict with these opinions.  This community along with the CDC cannot create jobs or enhance economic stability as a divided community.”

Mr. Vassallo’s letter did not address any of the numerous apparent conflicts of interest made evident at the PSCDC over the past six months, including: the PSCDC’s active support of Ballot Measure 1B while Education Center director Don Goodwin was a sitting PSCDC board member; the hiring of John Ranson’s daughter as Marketing Director; the hiring of Steve Vassallo’s wife’s employer, Louisiana-based Bone Marketing, to create the PSCDC website; the hiring of Bone Marketing to handle the marketing of a planned dog event in Pagosa; the hiring of three of Mr. Vassallo’s old friends from his home town in Nashville, TN to perform at a planned music festival in Pagosa; the statements made regionally by Mr. Vassallo in support of B.J. “Red” McCombs’ proposed “Village at Wolf Creek” project; Mr. Vassallo’s active support of a controversial lease being proposed by Janis Moomaw, the wife of former County commissioner Bob Moomaw, one of the commissioners who voted to subsidize Mr. Vassallo’s salary from County funds; and last but perhaps not least, Mr. Vassallo’s ability to alienate numerous successful business leaders here in Archuleta County as he rushed to seal deals with out-of-town friends and businesses and with powerful local politicians.

But the PSCDC board, in its wisdom, voted unanimously yesterday not to accept Mr. Vassallo’s resignation.

Indeed, in just six short months, the community has become bitterly divided over the question of Steve Vassallo and the controversial PSCDC.  That bitterness was clearly evident at yesterday’s meeting.

Following the reading of Mr. Vassallo’s resignation letter, chair Mike Alley invited comments from the public, and began by calling on Carole Howard, who with Steve Vassallo and Janis Moomaw has been involved in the proposed “Nashville Songwriter’s Symposium,” now better known by the slightly longer name, “The Pagosa Springs County and Pop Songwriters' Festival & Symposium.”

Ms. Howard read a prepared speech.

Read Part Two...

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