The three-term Garfield County clerk and recorder is facing a challenger in next week's election, with one big issue being the string of embezzlements by three employees under her watch.

Democratic incumbent Jean Alberico is being challenged by Republican Bonnie McLean, who said Alberico needs to be held accountable for the crimes that occurred in her office.

"If that happened to me and I was the manager of the department and continually had embezzlement — I mean, half a million dollars is a lot of money — I would lose my job," McLean said.

Alberico contends she responded to the incidents in a responsible manner, and that she isn't hearing complaints and questions or huge concerns from the public about it.

Aside from McLean, "the only people who have made a huge, big issue about the embezzlements quite frankly have been the press," she said.

The incidents occurred from about 2011 to 2015. Brenda Caywood was sentenced to two years of probation after stealing nearly $16,000 in the first case that was discovered. Robin McMillan received a nine-year sentence after taking nearly $450,000, and Alicia Macias received 10 years of probation and was ordered to repay more than $16,000 that she stole.

"I did the right thing," Alberico said. "I didn't try to hide it. I investigated. I cooperated fully with law enforcement. I brought people in to help us make changes and we have made changes to the accounting process."

McLean doesn't think those changes have gone far enough. She pointed to an auditor's recent questioning of Alberico's employment of a bookkeeper who has a cash drawer and also does reconciliation, which McLean called a "number one no-no" in accounting principles.

Alberico said she provided a thorough response to the auditor's concerns, and the auditor responded that her having a bookkeeper also work the front counter and have a cash drawer isn't a weakness because of the accounting controls in place.

Alberico said that bookkeeper fills an important role as a motor vehicle financial specialist, but it wouldn't be cost-efficient to have her doing just that work, and she also brings bilingual skills to her counter work.

McLean says the leader of the clerk and recorder's office is accountable for what happens there and her goal is to bring accountability back.

She said she also thinks it's time to bring fresh eyes to the office and update things.

McLean — whose late father, Pete Prebble, once owned the caves that are now the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park — has an industrial engineering degree, a master's in administration and has studied law. She worked as aide to the city manager and commissioners of Sunrise, Florida, and currently works in human relations for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. She believes she's well-suited for the clerk and recorder's job, given her background in areas such as records management.

"I do think I'm a really good fit for this position," she said.

Alberico said her 36 years working for the office, the last 12 as its elected leader, are preferable to having fresh eyes in charge. From conducting elections to handling titles and registration, recording vital records, dealing with liquor licenses and serving as clerk to the commissioners, her office conducts wide-ranging duties and she says experience matters when it comes to getting the work done. She said she has worked hard and brought a lot of changes and new technology into the office.

"I know the job, I have the passion for the job and I would like to continue being the Garfield clerk and recorder," she said.

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