Dems to Martin: Quit or face indictment
A call for 20-year Republican Garfield County Commissioner John Martin to resign over Democratic allegations of embezzlement of county money prompted Martin on Wednesday to issue a stern public response during the Glenwood Springs Issues and Answers election forum.
“I will not succumb to threats and intimidation,” Martin said to open his debate with Democratic challenger John Acha, who is also among Martin’s accusers.
Martin also declared his innocence to any of the charges being leveled at him.
He used his time for an opening statement at the debate to disclose that he and a county legal representative met Tuesday morning with Garfield County Democratic Party officials, including Chairman Bob Shivley and attorney Andrew Quiat.
Martin said he was given an ultimatum: Either resign immediately, remove his name from the ballot and assure there will not be a candidate vacancy committee formed, or face an indictment on charges including misuse of county money for expenses unrelated to county business.
“They said to me, ‘Do this within 48 hours, or we will seek an indictment and remove you from office for malfeasance,’” Martin said.
Should he do that, Martin said he was told he could quietly retire to Delta County, where he and wife, Nancy, have a fruit and vegetable produce farm.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I do not respond well to threats and intimidation,” Martin said. “I refuse to resign and I surely will not move to Delta County.”
After the forum, Martin took it a step further and laid down the gauntlet, saying officials from the opposing party could be guilty of illegally threatening a public official.
“They said I now play the game of Russian roulette on my life, my career, and my ability to be in public office for the rest of my life,” Martin said. “If that is not a threat and intimidation, I don’t know what is.”
At issue for the Democrats are 17 separate allegations leveled both at Martin individually over reimbursements for meals and other expenses, as well as the Republican-controlled Board of County Commissioners for what Democratic party officials say are questionable dealings in recent years.
The allegations, some of which are still being formulated, range from holding illegal meetings to poor stewardship of taxpayer money with several property purchases over the last half-dozen years or so.
The charges are the result of 19 recent Colorado Open Records Act requests submitted to the county over the past several months by the Democratic Central Committee and candidate Acha.
Acha said during the forum Wednesday night, held at Glenwood Springs City Hall in front of a packed house, that he wasn’t aware of the ultimatum posed to Martin by representatives of his party.
“I would like to see a copy of that,” he said, referring to an 11-page legal opinion prepared by attorney Quiat outlining allegations of embezzlement on the part of Martin.
In it, Quait says Martin violated state statute by double-dipping for expenses incurred while attending a conference for an unspecified organization of which the county is a member.
“The commissioner attended three of these conferences a year for three years and personally received a $50 per day per diem advance to attend these meetings,” Quiat states. “The commissioner did not disclose these per diem advances, no one else at the county knew about these advances, and the commissioner did not keep a contemporaneous accounting of the use of the per diem advance.”
In addition to accepting a total of $1,800 in per diem advances, Quiat alleges that Martin also charged the county for nearly $3,000 worth of meals while at the same conventions.
The bombshell overshadowed the debate itself, which covered a variety of issues ranging from local control versus state regulatory authority over oil and gas operations, transfer of federal lands to state control, the county’s efforts to limit sage grouse protections on federal lands, county finances, and whistleblower protection for county employees.
County Democratic Party Treasurer John Stephens was on hand at the forum, and confirmed that party officials had met with Martin and asked him to step down or face possible indictment.
“I can’t go into details about it, but in the process of the CORA request a number of issues have arisen,” Stephens said after the forum.
“We do have a number of concerns that have arisen, and more information will be coming,” Stephens said.
Regarding Martin’s decision to issue his response at the election forum, Stephens said that’s his right.
“I respect his response, and the way he wishes to deal with the issue,” Stephens said. “I also respect John for his service of 20 years, but as a party and as an individual I think it’s time for a change … and I think John Acha has great skills to bring to the commission.”
Added Martin in a followup interview with the Post Independent, “I have not done anything wrong, and I have not violated any rule or any statute.
“These are unwarranted and very low on the political realm of promoting another candidate,” Martin said.