DENVER– Rep. Ray Scott has again asked Governor John Hickenlooper to clean up the scandal-racked public trustee system, eliminate the ten politically appointed positions and transfer their duties to county treasurers. After more than a week, the Governor has ignored Scott’s request – as he has for nearly a year.
A Republican legislator from Grand Junction, Scott vowed to introduce a bill in 2013 to end the antiquated system of the governor-appointed public trustees in Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer, Mesa, Pueblo and Weld counties. It will be a reform measure similar to House Bill 1329, sponsored by Scott this past session.
Though titled, “Concerning the County Treasurer Becoming The Public Trustee,” Scott said the bill was amended as a compromise to the governor and Democrats, and deleted references to the county treasurer assuming the public trustee duties.
“The Governor either ignored the merits of the original bill or got bad advice from his staff,” said Scott. “The statute creating the governor appointees is 118 years old. We’re the only state in the nation [with] this political patronage position.”
Scott’s bill is welcomed by several county treasurers who welcome eliminating the $72,500-a-year appointed public trustee position, and envision using that cost savings to help schools, parks and road maintenance in their counties.
To merge those functions into the county treasurer’s offices “is a no brainer,” said El Paso County Treasurer Bob Balink. He said it’s a natural fit because county treasures handle and track property liens and tax compliance. “It’s all related.”
Balink said the staffs of the public trustees would be moved to the treasurer’s offices, which might downsize positions if possible, and perform the duties. The unanswered question is whether the eliminated public trustees’ salary savings will be retained by the state or remain in the county budgets.
Until this month, Hickenlooper did not publicly react to news revealing abuse of funds by governor-appointed public trustees, the failure of his office to uphold a duty to monitor and audit the appointees’ offices. He finally called for the resignations of appointed public trustees on July 10.
Multiple requests by phone and email to the governor’s communications staff for comment by Hickenloper about the resignations, trustee reappointment requests and Scott’s bill went unanswered.
Hickenlooper almost seemed to ignore other stories of corruption published by the Denver Post and Grand Junction Sentinel over the past year that resulted in penalties imposed by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission against the Colorado Public Trustees Association.
May 2010, the state’s most powerful foreclosure attorney Larry Castle of Denver hosted a fundraiser for El Paso County Public Trustee Thomas Mowle who was running for county clerk and recorder. Democrat Mowle lost his bid to Republican Wayne Williams, but garnered nearly $13,000 in campaign contributions from Castle, his wife and associates.
June 2011, the Colorado Public Trustee Association hosted a conference in Black Hawk, and at least 32 trustees stayed in $99-a-night hotel rooms at the Ameristar Casino. According to an email from CPTA, the rooms were paid for from the $13,500 contributions from the state’s leading foreclosure law firm Castle & Meinhold (now known as Castle Stawiarski LLC law firm) and Government Technology Systems.
October 2011, an attorney for Denver-based Sherman & Howard law firm reportedly held a seminar to instruct the public trustees about ethics violations under Amendment 41 – in a preliminary step to counter a complaint filed by Colorado Ethics Watch.
November 2011, Colorado Ethics Watch filed a complaint against CPTA with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission, alleging the nonprofit association took money in excess of the $53 gift limit per individual under Amendment 41.
February 2012, the CPTA and Colorado Ethics Watch agreed to the sanctions imposed by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission that demanded payment of nearly $3,000 in fines divided among 32 counties, and additional ethics training for public trustees.
March 2012, Scott’s reform bill is introduced in the House Local Government Affairs Committee, subsequently amended and finally passed by both chambers, and signed into law by the Governor on May 21.
July 4, 2012, the Governor’s staff notified appointed public trustees of new guidelines that included a ban on the using government-owned vehicles for private use, prohibiting office expenditures greater than $5,000 without Hickenlooper’s approval, mandatory reporting of potential conflict of interests, and a recommendation that private donations be used to fund employee-recognition events and gifts. The guidelines might have been in response to pending stories by the Denver Post and Grand Junction Sentinel.
July 8, 2012, the Denver Post breaks an investigative story that reveals rampant misuse of public funds by the ten appointed public trustees – the scandal ranges from Pueblo County Public Trustee Nick Gradisar who received at least $2,000 per month rent on the office located in a building that he owns since August 2007 – a total of $120,000 – to Adams County Public Trustee Carol Snyder who charged the office $791 monthly payment for a new Dodge Nitro for her personal use from 2007 to January 2011, when presumably the car was paid off, and continues to bill for a Sirius-XM satellite radio system.
Scott said he expects the governor to have a different attitude toward his bill in this session because public has been informed of the numerous ethics problems and unnecessary spending on the 10 appointees.
“The cow is out of the barn,” declared Scott.