Ten public trustees resign
All appointed by governor
The 10 public trustees who are appointed by the governor all resigned on Tuesday, including Mesa County Trustee Paul Brown.
Gov. John Hickenlooper said recent press coverage of how they do their jobs in The Daily Sentinel and the Denver Post led to the mass resignations.
Those reports revealed mismanagement in several of the trustees’ offices, including allegations of double-dipping on use of automobiles, taking employees out to expensive lunches and using public money to pay personal expenses.
“We all have to stand for good government,” Hickenlooper said. “That means maintaining the public’s trust and wherever possible avoiding even the appearance of any impropriety.”
In response to some of those newspaper accounts, last week the governor imposed new guidelines for the 10 trustees, including submitting conflict-of-interest statements, following state rules on use of vehicles and receiving approval for purchases of more than $5,000.
Brown said his resignation is effective in 30 days but otherwise declined to comment.
The trustee’s main role in the state is to oversee private foreclosures.
During this year’s legislative session, the governor signed a bill that required the trustee offices to be audited each year and follow state procurement laws for purchases of more than $25,000. That includes newspapers that win contracts to run public notices.
Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, who carried that bill, said initially he thought the governor agreed with his idea to do away with the governor-appointed trustees altogether.
Under a state law on the books for about 118 years, trustees in the 10 largest counties are appointed by the governor. The duties of the public trustees in the remaining 52 counties are handled by those county’s treasurers. (The Denver trustee is the county clerk and Broomfield’s trustee is appointed by county commissioners.)
Initially, Scott’s bill would have allowed the treasurers in four counties — Mesa, El Paso, Douglas and Weld — to handle the trustees’ duties, with three other counties — Larimer, Jefferson and Arapahoe — considering joining the bill.
But after a meeting between the trustees and the governor’s office, the bill ended up being modified to keep the trustees, but with some restrictions, Scott said.
“From what I understand, the governor was in the position where he was thinking about getting rid of them anyhow,” Scott said. “But they asked for a reprieve. They would be good boys and girls and they would no longer steal and cheat and do all that other stuff.”
Scott said the bill isn’t what he wanted, particularly because it weakened language that would have allowed county commissioners to scrutinize trustees’ budgets.
By law, the trustees’ offices are funded through foreclosure fees and any surplus funds go into county coffers.
The Mesa County Commission had long sparred with Brown over his decision to pay a higher rent in a downtown public building instead of moving into space provided by the county at a lower cost.
It wasn’t until Scott’s bill made the rounds through the Legislature that Brown agreed to do that. He signed a contract to move onto the third floor of the Mesa County Courthouse on Monday.
That move is to occur late next month, but public auctions are expected to continue at the current location at 619 E. Main St. Brown, who has four employees, pays $2,300 a month for that office; the county is to charge him $1,287 a month.
The governor said the current trustees will leave their jobs when a transition to their replacements can be done at minimal interruption. He’s calling for anyone to apply for the jobs through his Office of Boards and Commissions.
Trustees’ pay varies by county and is set in state statute. For Mesa County, the job pays $72,000.
Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis said the governor had the chance to deal with the situation when Scott’s original bill was introduced. Scott, meanwhile, questioned whether Hickenlooper could just appoint the county treasurers to the positions instead.
Regardless, Scott said he would reintroduce his bill next January if he is re-elected to the Colorado House this fall.