As part of a restructuring effort, the Montezuma County Commission has appointed an advisory committee to help support the county’s Colorado State University Extension office.
Jan Sennhenn, Don Bane, Eleanor Kuhl, David Temple and Keandra Elliot will serve on the new committee. The will serve staggered terms of one, two and three years. A few of them were interviewed by commissioners on Nov. 13.
Sennhenn is a former CSU Extension director for Montezuma County.
“Having devoted 32 years to this program, I feel obligated to help keep it moving forward,” she said. “One role of the advisory board is to take feedback from the community on local needs and issues.”
Kuhl served on the previous CSU Extension advisory committee. In the past, they mostly communicated with the Montezuma and state extension offices, she said. They met infrequently and advised extension staff on difficult issues when needed.
“We spent a lot of time advocating the state to fill the vacant consumer education position,” she said. “They tell us we are at the top of the list for a new hire.”
The 4-H Club program is operated by the CSU Extension office. Elliot is the council president of the 4-H club and said her “role is to be the voice of 4-H participants.” One spot on the committee is reserved for the current 4-H council president.
Bane said he will work toward clearer definitions of the separate roles for the 4-H organizers and the Montezuma County Fair Board. Interpretation of who is in charge of what during fair events has led to confusion and frustration within the program, he said.
“The ground rules need to be re-established,” Bane said. “Rules keep getting added, then interpreted differently.”
On that front, the fair board and extension office are drawing up a memorandum of understanding that clearly defines roles of the different agencies. A draft is expected by January.
“A strong MOU defining roles, and enforcing those roles is key for running a smoother program,” said commissioner James Lambert. “We’re trying to line out responsibilities and revitalize the 4-H and extension programs.”
“I want the advisory board to look at ways to improve the extension office, fix problems and not kick them down the road,” said commissioner Larry Don Suckla. “I feel the 4-H program has too many rules for the kids to follow, and it’s causing them to lose people.”
The advisory board was instructed to meet monthly and give regular updates to the commission on CSU Extension activities.
A main event for the 4-H Club program is held at the Montezuma County Fair. Andrea Jeter, the 4-H director, said one of the challenges is that the fair board is a separate entity from the extension office and sets its own rules on how the fair is run.
The CSU Extension office has been in upheaval since the commissioners voted to defund the program Oct. 2, saying they were dissatisfied with the way it was run. Suckla later admitted it was a “fake news, negotiation tactic” to get the attention of CJ Mucklow, the Western Slope director of the CSU Extension, who traveled to Cortez meet with county and extension officials in October.
“I think we are making progress,” Mucklow said Thursday. “It was poor communication all the way around, but with a new advisory board and MOU, the programs should improve.”
As part of the restructuring, Mucklow said another extension manager is being sought to temporarily oversee the Montezuma County program to give advice and direction.
Regarding the $108,000 in funding needed for the extension office, the county commissioners have not reversed their vote to defund the program. They will make a final decision on funding the CSU Extension when the final county budget is approved in early December, Lambert said.