Dems: GarCo official double-dipped on expenses
Accusation political, maybe even illegal, commissioner says
Criminal accusations are flying between Democratic and Republican officials in Garfield County in connection with allegations of improper travel expense claims by county Commissioner John Martin.
Democrats are accusing Martin of so-called “double-dipping” through using a county purchasing card for expenses for which he’d already received advance per-diem payments from the group Colorado Counties Inc. An outside, $7,500 audit conducted for the county in 2015 and pointed to by Democrats found that Martin violated county travel and expense policy and should reimburse the county $1,800. He did, with fellow commissioners Mike Samson and Tom Jankovsky each pitching in $400 of the amount. Martin and Jankovsky say they simply wanted to put the matter to rest.
County Democratic officials raised the issue Tuesday morning in a private meeting with Martin, a Republican and 20-year commissioner being challenged in this fall’s election by Democrat John Acha. Martin said the Democrats told him he could resign, withdraw as a candidate, assure Democrats that Republicans wouldn’t find someone to replace him on the ballot, and quietly retire to his property in Delta County and they wouldn’t go public with their accusations and seek to have him criminally indicted.
Instead, Martin recounted the meeting with Democrats at a debate in Glenwood Springs Wednesday night.
“I refuse to resign, I refuse to remove my name (as a candidate) and I surely will not move to Delta County in the middle of the night,” Martin told debate-goers.
“I will not succumb to threat and intimidation,” he said.
In addition, he is contending that Democrats may have conducted a criminal act by threatening a public official. Martin said in an interview Thursday that that’s why he had Tari Williams, the county’s attorney, attend the meeting with Democrat officials with him.
He also denies any wrongdoing on his part.
“I’ve not violated any rule, regulation or statute. I’ve done no wrong whatsoever,” said Martin, who says auditors misunderstood the situation in their findings.
The issue is one of several Acha and Garfield Democratic Party leaders have raised after they spent $2,400 on 19 requests for documents from the county under state open records laws. Among other allegations, they say the county vastly overpaid for property acquisitions under Martin’s leadership, something Martin has denied.
Acha, who wasn’t at Tuesday morning’s meeting, said it’s his opinion that Martin engaged in double-dipping regarding travel expenses.
“There was money that John wasn’t entitled to that he kept,” Acha said.
Ryan Gilman, an attorney and Acha’s campaign manager, said Martin shouldn’t have been personally pocketing a $50 per-diem expense from CCI when he was using the county card for the same expenses.
Gilman, Acha and Andrew Quiat, an attorney who is vice chair for the Garfield County Democratic Party, also all took issue with the idea that Democrats did anything wrong in their meeting with Martin.
“John Martin is trying to twist it as an extortion and it’s not,” Acha said.
He said Quiat and the party’s Garfield chair, Bob Shivley, met with Martin as a professional courtesy to discuss their concerns about his actions and simply recommended that he step aside. Quiat said that in view of Martin’s years of service, Democrats were trying to take the high road to address facts they had uncovered.
Quiat said Democrats never explicitly stated the possible consequences if Martin didn’t withdraw as a candidate.
“The goal here is to clean up what we feel is corrupt government in Garfield County,” he said.
“… As for extortion, I’ve reviewed those statutes and if he thinks someone is trying to extort him he has his recourse and we have ours, and we’ll let the public decide.”
Martin said he will talk to his private attorney and weigh his options, and the county will weigh its options as well.
Dave Merritt, chair of the Republican Party in the county, said he was “extremely disappointed” by the reported actions of the Democrats. He called them “extremely unethical,” and said that while he can’t say if Republicans plan to take legal action, it’s a criminal act for someone to threaten a public official with legal actions that will be taken unless the official acts in a certain way.
He said he hasn’t had a chance to look into the particulars of the audit, but it apparently was resolved to the county’s satisfaction.
Merritt said that as a former Glenwood Springs City Council member and a longtime resident of the county, “I have the utmost respect (for) and confidence in John Martin and his integrity.”
Jankovksy said the Democrats’ actions are petty and he called it “awful” for them to issue a threatening call for Martin to resign.
“I think to some extent it’s dirty politics, a smear campaign,” he said.
He said he and Samson helped Martin pay the $1,800 because they didn’t feel it was fair for him to bear the entire burden. He said he thinks Martin spent the money on travel and was being unjustly penalized, but paying the money was the best way to close the matter.
“In my opinion this was a misunderstanding that was cleared up with him paying back the dollars. It definitely was not double-dipping,” Jankovsky said.
The issue came to light after a county employee had submitted a travel expense reimbursement form to CCI for Martin’s travel to a National Association of Counties conference. A CCI employee replied that Martin already had gotten a CCI advance reimbursement for food at $50 per conference day and $25 per travel day, so CCI wouldn’t be reimbursing the county for the food portion of the expenses submitted.
The audit was requested by Andrew Gorgey, at the time the county manager. The audit report said county officials did not appear to have been aware Martin was receiving per-diem advances from CCI.
The audit found Martin received $1,800 in advances for conferences from 2013-2015, while also using a county purchasing card for nearly $3,000 in meals and entertainment for the same conferences. An auditor said he didn’t disclose the CCI advances when submitting receipts, and it appears charges on the county card were for meals for which he’d received advance per-diem.
The audit report said in one case Martin said he used his county card to charge a meal at a conference because it hadn’t started yet and he was still “on county time.” It said Martin also said that after each day’s conference events were over he was on county time and used the county card for meals. The audit concluded Martin was offering an after-the-fact justification that was “not a reasonable explanation.”
Martin said Thursday he always kept separate his county business and CCI business during travels. If he met with a lobbyist in Washington, for example, he used the county card. For CCI business on the same trip he used the advance, or his personal money if that advance ran out.
“They (Democrats) want to put all that in one pot and call that double dipping. … I didn’t double dip. I did just the opposite to make sure I’m not double dipping,” he said.
Ninth Judicial District Attorney Sherry Caloia, a Democrat, said she hadn’t been aware that local Democratic leaders were interested in having Martin criminally investigated. She said she couldn’t be involved with any such investigation due to a conflict of interest because the county helps fund her office.
Caloia said Democrats could ask for a special prosecutor. She said Martin also could ask for an investigation, but added, “if you look up the definition of extortion I don’t think it fits myself.”