Commissioners eat on taxpayers’ dime | PostIndependent.com

Commissioners eat on taxpayers’ dime

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, left, and challenger John Acha at Glenwood Springs' Issues and Answers candidate forum.

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, left, and challenger John Acha at Glenwood Springs' Issues and Answers candidate forum.

The Garfield County Democrats and the campaign of John Acha, who is running for county commissioner, say about 1½ years of receipts show commissioners improperly eating out on the taxpayers’ dime.

But 20-year Commissioner John Martin, the Democrat’s primary target, whom Acha is trying to unseat, says these meals are legitimate expenditures made while commissioners are on county business and on county time.

“[Martin] and the other commissioners routinely purchase themselves lunches on the county purchasing card without business justification,” the Democrats wrote in a press release Tuesday.

Receipts between January 2015 and April 2016 obtained by the Democrats show nearly 90 meals that the commissioners paid for with tax money, dozens of which were attended by multiple commissioners.

Meals Martin had with Commissioner Mike Samson made up the vast majority of those involving more than one commissioner.

“Purchases must be for the use and benefit of Garfield County. Under no circumstances will the card be used for personal purchases,” reads the county’s purchasing card policy.

However, food for meetings is listed among the policy’s allowable uses.

“The only way such meal purchases are county business expenses is if they are discussing county business at lunch,” wrote the Democrats.

That the purchasing cards are used in the first place suggests that they are doing county business, which in turn suggests that commissioners are conducting county business outside of public meetings, say the Democrats.

“So they are either charging personal meals to the purchasing card or violating the sunshine act, and under either theory their behavior is a knowing violation of law or policy,” the Democrats wrote.

However, commissioners do not discuss or make decisions on county business during these meals, Martin said Tuesday.

Martin and Samson frequently get meals together, often between sessions of the board’s regular Monday meetings.

Because the commissioners are obligated to go to these meetings in the mornings and return at 1 p.m., they are entitled to spend county money on lunch, said Martin.

“Are you asking whether we conduct county business during lunch? And the answer is no,” said Martin. The Democrats are “really grasping at straws here.”

Acha and the Democrats also complained that the commissioners have not always listed guests at county-bought meals and have not listed a purpose.

When they’re meeting on county business, the commissioners can buy other people’s meals with their county card, Martin and Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said Tuesday.

Martin said that recording who is at that meeting, whose meal is being bought and the purpose of the meeting is a good practice but not a requirement.

Jankovsky said Tuesday that while he wasn’t initially in the habit of identifying these business contacts on receipts, he’s been more vigilant about it in the last year after the county’s finance department requested it.

Jankovsky said he doesn’t usually put meals on the county’s purchasing card unless he’s travelling. But he wouldn’t go so far as to say that doing so was improper.

After spending a great deal of time with the other two commissioners, Jankovsky said he doesn’t see the need to socialize with them at lunch, too.

The meal receipts are the latest in a series of county documents obtained by the Democrats via open records requests. Other requests have targeted county property acquisitions and investments that the Democrats have criticized.

Representatives from the Garfield County Democrats have demanded that Martin step down and keep another Republican from running in his place, and they’ve threatened to pursue his indictment over spending.

The Democrats have also claimed Martin is guilty of embezzlement of public money, claiming his improper reimbursement of travel expenses amounts to double dipping.

Martin eventually had to reimburse the county $1,800 following a 2015 auditor’s report that delved into his handling of advances he was given during intergovernmental conferences.

Martin said the audit cleared him of wrongdoing.

The Democrats are taking these things to extremes and trying to make them very big issues, said Martin.