Kane County tourism director "Cowboy Ted" Hallisey said he believes county commissioners are planning to fire him from his job of nearly five years because he is a Democrat.
Hallisey is challenging Rep. Michael Noel, R-Kanab, for his seat in the state Legislature.
"I think it's imminent," said Hallisey, who was hired by the county commissioners to be the executive director for the Kane County Office of Tourism. "They (the county commissioners) called me in to an executive session (last week) to talk about a number of issues recently. They said I'm insubordinate."
Kane County Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw said Hallisey's assertion that he is being singled out because he is a Democrat is far from true.
"I'm disappointed he's trying to make a political issue out of it," said Habbeshaw, one of three Republicans serving on the three-seat commission. "We have not made any decision regarding Ted Hallisey's position with Kane County, but we are reviewing some issues with him regarding his performance. It has nothing to do with his political life and everything to do with his administrative position for Kane County."
Hallisey sees it otherwise, noting the county's tax revenues from tourism-related business have increased under his watch. He points that out in a letter he sent recently to Utah Democratic Party leaders, saying he feels "targeted" by Republican officials in Kane County.
"One white-hat-wearing cowboy in Kanab, Utah, is learning the lessons of some of the behind door bullying tactics associated with small-town politics," he wrote, referring to himself as "Cowboy" Ted in his letter, which he also provided to the Deseret News.
In the letter, Hallisey complains that the Kane County commissioners are "close political and personal allies of Mike Noel." He says his job status recently was changed so that he would be unable to attend the 45-day legislative session if he won the election.
Habbeshaw said the commissioners have expressed their concerns to Hallisey before about his inability to keep his political life, public job and private persona separate before the public.
"This is a continuation of the same pattern of behavior," he said. "I would have expected him to correct that behavior."
Hallisey has voiced personal opinions on several controversial issues through the use of e-mails, press releases and letters to the editor, although he insists he keeps his job title out of it.
Some of those issues are Kanab's approval of the "Natural Family Resolution," the question of whether pit bulls bred to fight should ever be adopted and the proposed reintroduction of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.
"Since March, when I filed for office, a lot of people have had trouble separating me from my position as tourism director and as a private citizen," said Hallisey, who promotes himself as "Cowboy Ted," no matter which hat he is wearing at the time. "I have always tried to separate the two. It's a matter of semantics."
Utah Democratic Party vice chairman Rob Miller said he isn't sure what to make of the brewing controversy, but he's "suspicious" of the county's motives.
"I'm not ready to say absolutely that they are targeting Ted, but I find it highly suspect that these issues are being handled in this manner," Miller said. "Why, all of a sudden, is the heat on Ted when he's running for office against Mike Noel? If there has been a problem with Ted for two years, why is it coming to a head right now?"
Hallisey said he has no intention of resigning his post and will continue in the race to unseat Noel and the "business as usual system that favors special interest groups."
For his part, Habbeshaw said another meeting has been scheduled to "review issues and complaints" with Hallisey."If Ted wants to make political hay out of it, that's his prerogative," Habbeshaw said. "Our issue with Ted is when he takes public an issue that is best left to the County Commission. He has mixed his role as an administrator with his personal positions and has taken issues beyond the scope and authority of his duties. Ted does not set policy or speak for the county."