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RMSER wins lawsuit against state department

Posted: Thursday, Dec 6th, 2012

Local Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Board President Roni Wisdom

Courier staff writer

VALLEY — A Denver District Court ruled in favor of Rocky Mountain Service and Employment Development (RMSER) in late September, finding the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) in violation of the law when it awarded the Southern Ute Community Action Program (SUCAP) the Valley workforce contract earlier this year.

“The local commissioners and board should have made the decision,” said RMSER Workforce Program Director Leon Ortega in a phone interview on Tuesday. “It is hard to go up against the state, but they ruled in our favor.”

The court’s decision, however, does not immediately reinstate RMSER to the service position nor does it indicate that it ever will.

Local Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Board President Roni Wisdom said in a telephone interview on Wednesday the board passed a motion at its November 12 meeting to ratify the state’s decision to select SUCAP, which they came to support this summer after reviewing funding applications acquired from the state through a Colorado Open Records Act request. She said this action will hopefully satisfy the court’s findings that the “the contract may be terminated, or the contract may be ratified and affirmed” and “any such ratification would have to occur through the LEOs (local elected officials) and local WIA since those are the entities that have the authority to award the contract in the first place.”

This raises concerns for RMSER while they prepare for the state’s appeal.

“Even though the state has appealed, why aren’t they (local WIA) doing what the judge asked them to do?” Ortega questioned.

In June, RMSER and its associates learned the CDLE awarded Workforce Investment Act dollars to the Ignacio-based SUCAP, forcing RMSER to cut its workforce programs ties after nearly 30 years of service. RMSER immediately responded, appealing the funding decision with a joint letter from the six Valley counties requesting a deferred judgment or action until the local WIA board could review the applications to see if needs are being met. The state conducted an independent investigation and determined it had the authority to award the contract in spite of a 2010 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) giving counties the decision-making authority. RMSER did not agree and brought the issue to the courts in July.

Wisdom said the board feels it has followed the correct procedures, and fears the courts could cause workforce services to lapse in the Valley.

“Our biggest concern is there would be no services,” Wisdom said. “This is important to us and the Valley.”

The WIA opened the door for vendor proposal requests last November, and, according to Wisdom, was “totally astounded that anyone else applied” and pleased that they did.

“They (SUCAP) have done an excellent job,” she said. “They came in and stepped up to the plate. RMSER did a good job and I have no complaints. It was an open competition.”

In defense of the court’s ruling, Wisdom said the local WIA was involved with the decision making process and the state didn’t usurp the board.

“This process shows there were flaws, but we are fixing them,” she said. “Our board was really involved in the process and they made the best decision for the San Luis Valley.”

According to legal documents, an eight-member evaluation committee that included local WIA representative Mike Jones, Center, unanimously agreed to award the contract to SUCAP, and recommended the state award the contract.

RMSER Workforce Development has programs throughout he state and offers free vocational and on the job training and opportunities to adult, youth and dislocated workers in need of employment through WIA. WIA is a federally funded program designed to increase the occupational skill level of participants and to improve the quality of Colorado’s workforce.

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