by Pam Zubeck
Earlier this week, El Paso County commissioners honored County Attorney Bill Louis as he heads out the door later this month, leaving 15 years of government work and diving into private sector law practice.
There were nice words all around for Louis, who clearly was pushed aside after he warned commissioners their plan to buy the Arrowswest building in northwest Colorado Springs would bring "another black eye" to the county, much like the sneaky term limits extension had.
"We took a hit with term limits," Louis wrote to commissioners. "I am counseling you to avoid another black eye.... Sorry to do this, but I felt compelled and duty bound to do so."
For his trouble, Louis soon announced his departure, and to their credit, commissioners didn't follow through with the Arrowswest deal.
Before we convey the accolades bestowed on Louis by county officials, let me say this about Bill Louis: I've never met a government attorney who had a clearer picture of and commitment to sunshine laws than he does.
Whenever I asked, Louis willingly opened his records for inspection, including e-mails, lawsuit documents, contracts and correspondence. I don't ever recall a record being redacted, though there probably were one or two.
He was the one who disclosed, when asked, why the term limits ballot measure was written the way it was. He was frank and forthright.
He understands that government business is the people's business and acted accordingly. Most government attorneys are super secretive about executive sessions to the point of shying from even naming the topic unless forced to do so under the law. Then they're as crafty as possible in labeling it in a generic way. Not Bill Louis. He was always open about the topic commissioners would discuss, though he protected the precise legal matters that needed to remain confidential for the time being in the best interest of taxpayers.
This is no small balancing act when the assets of the county are at risk.
And talk about courage. It takes some moxie to tell your bosses they're about to make a mistake. Elected officials don't cotton much to being told they're wrong.
So the county loses a good public servant, and the media loses a partner in keeping government transparent.
Adios, Bill Louis. Enjoy never again opening an e-mail that says, "Pursuant to the Colorado Open Records Act...."
Comments from those bidding Louis adieu at Tuesday's commissioner meeting, according to a press release:
"Mr. Louis’ significant talent, legal skill, and breadth of knowledge in all areas of county government is recognized and appreciated by the Board of County Commissioners,” Chair Amy Lathen read from the resolution. “Mr. Louis’s knowledge, expertise, and dedication to El Paso County have significantly contributed to the citizens of El Paso County; and while his departure is a loss to the County, we wish him well in his future endeavors with great appreciation and much gratitude.”
“Our memories dim over time, but Bill Louis was the County Attorney during some of the most difficult times in the history of El Paso County,” said Jeff Greene, County Administrator. “A period of time that threatened to tear this County apart. Bill, at his own personal and professional peril, always did the right thing. He held this County together. He advised the Board of County Commissioners well, he has served me, and all the administrative departments well, he served my predecessor, Mr. Harris, very well. He will go down in history as one of El Paso County’s greatest County Attorneys.”
In the release, Louis is quoted as thanking county employees and crediting them with his success.
"I didn’t teach them to be good County employees," he said. "They taught me how to be County Attorney. I am very grateful for that knowledge because that is what helped me to grow as a lawyer.”
Louis will join the firm of Flynn Wright & Fredman, LLC.
His successor at the county has not yet been named.