Martin expense audit handled outside public meetings
An independent audit ordered last year by Garfield County looking into the travel expenses of Commissioner John Martin was handled administratively outside of any public meetings, per the county’s procurement code.
“The county manager at the time [Andrew Gorgey] brought it forward and felt we could resolve things by having an auditor come in,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said in reaction to a public records request by the Post Independent for documents related to securing the audit.
Jankovsky said he and Commissioner Mike Samson gave their respective approvals for the audit performed by the Denver accounting firm of Betzer, Call, Lausten & Schwartz. A contract signed by Gorgey on May 8, 2015, authorized the investigation.
Because the $7,453.60 audit expense was less than $10,000, Jankovsky said it did not have to come before the full Board of County Commissioners for approval. Likewise, the results and recommendation that Martin reimburse the county $1,800 did not have to be discussed in public, he said.
In retrospect, though, “It probably would have been better if it had been brought in front of the county commissioners,” Jankovsky said.
An open records request by the Garfield County Democrats revealed the audit and disclosed the $1,800 reimbursement that was advised in the May 18, 2015, forensics audit report.
The report found that Martin failed to tell the county about a meal allowance provided by Colorado Counties Inc. to attend intergovernmental conferences, while also making charges to the county’s purchasing card for some of the same expenses.
Martin, a Republican, is currently seeking a sixth term as county commissioner in the Nov. 8 election against Democrat John Acha, who has called attention to the audit and other questions about county dealings that came up in the Democrats’ records requests.
The Democratic Central Committee, in a press release last week, alluded to a “cover-up” by county commissioners regarding the audit and reimbursement paid in part by Martin along with some help from the other two commissioners.
Democrats have since asked for a criminal investigation into potential felony embezzlement by a public official charges against Martin.
Ninth District Attorney Sherry Caloia has referred the case to the 5th District Attorney’s Office in Eagle, due to a conflict of interest since her office receives a portion of its funding from Garfield County.
Andrew Quiat, vice chairman for the Garfield Democratic Party, said the cover-up in this instance is the fact that the results of the audit were never made public.
“Is this not of public interest?” Quiat said in an interview with the Post Independent on Monday.
Martin maintains he did not do anything illegal or against county policy, and that the audit rectified what he said was an honest mistake.
He told the Post Independent Monday that he first learned of the audit the day before he was interviewed as part of the investigation, and that he also would have preferred more public disclosure at the time.
“I’m not pointing fingers, it is what it is, and I can’t undo that now,” Martin said.
At the same time, he said he believes the audit was limited in scope and that a broader review of expense procedures would show that proper accounting procedures were followed.
“The process is not complete, and it needs to be,” he said, adding he welcomes further investigation and is confident no criminal wrongdoing will be found.
“It’s the best thing to end this situation, so that all involved can get an honest view of what took place,” Martin said.
Martin added that the audit did not play into the decision by the commissioners the month after the report was released to part ways with Gorgey as county manager.
“We just felt we were going in different directions, and we decided to part ways in as friendly a way as possible,” Martin said of the 2-1 vote on July 1, 2015, to accept a mutual separation agreement with Gorgey. Jankovsky cast the dissenting vote in that decision.
Martin and Jankovsky also explained why the three commissioners shared in paying back the county after the audit recommendation, including $1,000 from Martin and $400 each from Jankovsky and Samson.
“We felt that there was an over-correction on that, and that John was being asked to pay back more than was fair,” Jankovsky said, adding Martin often pays out of pocket for cab fare and other expenses associated with travel for both county and intergovernmental business.
“We certainly don’t feel that he’s not frugal in what he claims for expenses,” Jankovsky said.
He added that changes could probably be made to the county’s travel reimbursement policies, particularly in the reporting of any allowances paid by outside organizations.
Martin said he told his fellow commissioners that they didn’t need to help him pay the money back to the county, but in the end he didn’t challenge their offer.
The Democrats’ revelation about the $400 payment by Jankovsky and Samson did lead to some problems for the two commissioners when their checks, including bank account numbers and other personal information, were made public by the county through the records request and then were posted on Acha’s campaign website.
Quiat agreed that was a mistake on the part of the county for providing the unredacted copies and that the campaign erred in posting the information, even though it was made public. He said Acha and the party agreed to remove that information and re-post it with all personal and confidential information redacted.
“We did move promptly upon a request from the assistant county attorney to do that,” Quiat said. “We felt that was the decent thing to do.”
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