Garfield Commissioner Martin repaid $1,800 to county after audit | PostIndependent.com

Garfield Commissioner Martin repaid $1,800 to county after audit

Republican Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, under fire from county Democrats for alleged double-dipping in his reimbursement for travel expenses, said Thursday that an outside audit done last year rectified things and cleared him of wrongdoing.

The audit found that Martin failed to tell the county about an allowance provided by another organization that he represents, Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI), while also making charges to a county credit card.

As a result of the investigation, he was required to reimburse the county $1,800, records show.

The May 18, 2015, report by independent auditor Gary Schwartz out of Denver also suggests that Martin gave an "after-the-fact justification" for why some meals were paid for on the county's dime at the same time he received a CCI allowance.

READ THE AUDIT

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However, the report also acknowledges that the lines can be blurred between work done at CCI and National Association of Counties (NACo) conferences on behalf of those organizations and for the county.

"[Martin's] positions on both the Board of County Commissioners and the CCI Public Lands Steering Committee do not appear to be mutually exclusive in their underlying objectives. In fact, they would appear to be [complementary]," the report concluded.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party officials and their candidate in this fall's election, John Acha, stepped up their call for Martin to resign or otherwise withdraw his candidacy for re-election to a sixth term amid threats of a criminal investigation into what they say amounts to "embezzlement" by a public official.

"John Martin embezzled money from the county, and instead of trying to uncover the extent of his malfeasance and obtain justice for the taxpayers of Garfield County, the powers that really run our county covered it up," Democratic Party leaders, including Chairman Bob Shivley, attorney Andrew Quiat and Acha, allege in a press release issued late Thursday afternoon.

"This investigation found thousands of dollars misused by Martin, but was so limited in scope and time period there could be thousands more pocketed or misspent on personal items that were not uncovered," party officials allege.

Specifically, when a county administrative assistant discovered the double reimbursement for expenses incurred by Martin at NACo conventions, the $7,500 audit was ordered looking into expenses dating from 2013 to February 2015.

Ultimately, Martin was advised to reimburse the county for $1,800. According to records obtained by the Democrats as part of a series of Colorado Open Records Act requests, Martin paid $1,000 in cash, and his fellow Republican commissioners, Tom Jankovsky and Mike Samson — "strangely and without explanation," the Democratic release said — each wrote a check for $400 to make up the balance.

An attempt Thursday evening to reach Jankovsky for an explanation was unsuccessful.

It was Martin himself who brought the Democrats' allegations and demands to light at a debate with Acha in Glenwood Springs Wednesday night. At the event, Martin said he would not give in to the threats and would not resign.

In an interview with the Post Independent earlier in the day Thursday, Martin again adamantly denied any wrongdoing and said the audit sufficiently cleared things up regarding the expenses that were in question.

"I've never knowingly violated any rules or statutes on this," Martin said, adding that he is meticulous in keeping expenses associated with outside organizations separate from his work on behalf of the county.

Martin said it would be easy for an outside observer to look at the various expenses, "put them in a basket, mix it up and say, 'Oh, you're double-dipping.'"

But that's not the case, he said, adding he's not afraid of a criminal investigation, "because I didn't do anything wrong."

"My reputation is at stake here, and the credibility of the county is at stake," Martin said, reiterating that he thinks the attacks amount to "intimidation and threats" on the part of Acha and the Democrats.

Ninth Judicial District Attorney Sherry Caloia said she was notified about the issue Thursday morning. She responded by stating her office would not investigate the matter should a formal request be made due to a conflict of interests, since her office receives funding from the county.

"I have a conflict and cannot get involved in any form," Caloia said, adding that other entities that receive money from the county, such as the Garfield County Sheriff's Office, take that same position.

Instead, Caloia said an agreement among district attorneys in the state allows them to pass such cases to a different DA. The 5th Judicial District, which serves Eagle, Lake, Summit and Clear Creek counties, typically handles those cases for the 9th Judicial District, she said.

Caloia clarified, however, that the call she fielded Thursday morning was not a formal request for investigation, but more a "courtesy phone call" signaling that the party intended to raise the issue.

Also attached to the Democrats' news release were several county documents obtained via the CORA requests in recent months, including the forensic audit and supporting documents. It also contained a legal opinion from Glenwood Springs attorney and Acha campaign manager Ryan Gilman making a case for criminal charges.

Democratic Chairman Shivley said there's more to come from the Democrats' investigations into county business and Martin in particular.

"I think we have, as we've been saying, gone about this in a very methodical and very careful way," Shivley said. "We want to be very sure of the information we're putting out."

He declined to refer to comments made to Martin at a Tuesday meeting with Quiat and himself as an "ultimatum."

"The purpose of the visit to his office was to provide him with a professional courtesy and convey to him what we found," Shivley said.

The Democrats' press release also refers to "multiple county employees" coming forward with information about misconduct, but "who are too frightened of losing their jobs to publicly speak."

That's why there needs to be whistleblower protection for county employees, Acha said at the Wednesday night debate.

"There are some very serious concerns that were discovered by these investigations, and many more that you're not aware of," Acha said.

For that reason, he said county employees need better protections and confidentiality to be able to raise concerns that they might notice in the course of county business.

"I have drafted a contract with the employees of this county where I will guarantee their protection under a whistleblower policy," Acha said. "These people are the best watchdog that we have."

Martin countered during the debate that state and federal law already provide such protections, and that there is a protocol within county government to bring forward such concerns, and to do so confidentially.

Ryan Hoffman contributed to this story.