Editorial: King John, Unready John and a lunch suggestion
What a mess.
Garfield County Democrats, using the Colorado Open Records Act as a pole, went on a fishing expedition and landed a keeper. They uncovered that Commissioner John Martin last year had to repay $1,800 in reimbursements from the county because he failed to disclose that he got an expense allowance from Colorado Counties Inc. for the same meetings.
While Democrats on Wednesday formally asked for a special prosecutor, a lot of Martin’s supporters are shrugging this off. Why would a guy who has served the county for 20 years intentionally double-dip for a measly $2,000, as one letter writer put it?
Our answer: hubris.
Martin told auditors that the county’s travel expenditures policy “does not apply to everyone,” and that elected officials should be allowed “flexibility” and “could use ‘discretion’ to go outside of existing policies.”
Auditors said in their May 2015 report, “Martin’s explanation that he differentiates some meals as related to CCI business (paid with per diem), and some meals as related to Garfield County business (paid with P Card), is not a reasonable explanation. Rather, his explanation would appear to be an after-the-fact justification …”
And, while the Democrats’ separate discovery of Monday lunches with Martin and fellow Commissioner Mike Samson on the taxpayer dime might not violate policy, they come with an appetizer of delicious irony for guys who so proud of their fiscal conservatism. Don’t real budget hawks pack a lunch?
Politics ain’t beanbag, and of course the Democrats held up this smelly fish and overhyped it as “embezzlement” as their October surprise.
It seems like a stretch to call Martin’s spending criminal, but it isn’t nothing. It’s hard to imagine Republicans letting it pass if a Democratic official was found by auditors to have double dipped for $1,800 and kept it out of the public eye.
Just weeks after the audit, then-County Manager Andrew Gorgey, who requested the review, as was his duty, was ousted in what Martin called a “personality conflict.” We don’t know if Gorgey’s departure had anything to do with the audit. We know that the timing is interesting at the very least.
As this dumpster fire rages, county voters must choose between Martin, seeking his sixth term, and John Acha, a heretofore unknown construction contractor.
As we wrote in declining to make an endorsement in his Republican primary, Martin is paternalistic and exudes an attitude that he is the smartest guy in whatever room he occupies. Many see him as not being a good partner to Glenwood Springs and other municipalities and organizations, and complain that he leads the commission in micromanaging county government.
Thing is, he is the smartest guy in most rooms, he has a wealth of intricate knowledge of the county and of state law, and, arrogance aside, he genuinely cares about the welfare of the county and its residents.
The other thing is that Acha is spectacularly unprepared for office.
One of the reasons we believe it’s important for the Post Independent to make candidate endorsements is that we watch incumbents perform as elected officials much more closely than most residents are able (or have the stomach for). We also arrange interviews with the candidates that enable us to talk with each of them for an hour or so in a setting in which we can gauge their feelings for the community they seek to serve and in which it is difficult for them to dodge questions.
We commend anyone who sticks his or her neck out to run for office, but Acha’s interview was really bad.
County Democratic Second Vice Chair Andrew Quiat accompanied Acha to his PI interview and had more to say than the candidate, several times urging Acha to elaborate — three times eliciting responses that amounted to “I don’t follow you.” (That is a direct quote in one instance.)
It was Quiat who appeared to be driving the bus on the open records requests and Quiat who promised to roll out juicy revelations about corruption. It was Quait and county Chairman Robert Shivley who on Oct. 12 confronted Martin with a letter about the meal expenses and threatened to have him indicted if he didn’t resign. Oh, but if he resigned and moved to Delta County, they would let it go.
There’s a lot wrong with this, not the least of which being that Quait doesn’t have the power to decide whether anything is pursued or not — or to exile a political enemy. Good God.
The evening after the Shivley-Quiat-Martin meeting, at Glenwood Springs’ Issues and Answers candidate forum, Martin made the arm-twisting public, and Acha feigned ignorance, saying he hadn’t seen the allegations Quait and Shivley presented that morning.
That’s, at the least, the sign of a candidate not in control of his campaign.
The Republican commissioners’ circling of wagons and lack of transparency in this incident is just one reason it would be worthwhile to have some political diversity on the board.
We would like to see prepared Democratic or independent candidates who give voice to legitimate concerns in the county about the environment, transportation and housing make credible runs for commission to give residents a reasonable choice. Acha is not that candidate.
This isn’t an endorsement but a recognition of electoral reality: Long live King John. But, Mr. Martin, you’re not royalty. Next meal, try some humble pie.
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