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DA admits to hiring husband

District Attorney Colleen Truden publicly acknowledged for the first time yesterday that her husband was paid to work on the computer system for her office, contradicting what she and her husband previously said.Truden told the Garfield County commissioners that she hired her husband, Fred Truden, after she learned that the county’s in-house systems manager didn’t have time to work on the computers in the D.A.’s office and after she found a private firm’s fee too expensive.”As a stopgap, Fred provided some immediate service to meet the needs of the computers,” said Truden. Her response came after Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt questioned Truden about using public funds to hire her husband. Houpt explained that she thought the question was justified since Garfield County provides a significant part of the D.A.’s budget.Last week, following a meeting with the Pitkin County commissioners, Truden was evasive about hiring her husband.”My husband is not an employee on the payroll of the office of the district attorney,” Truden told reporters on April 26. She added that Fred Truden “does provide some services and does some volunteer work.”The district attorney made it clear yesterday that her husband’s computer work was not on a volunteer basis. That directly conflicts with what Fred Truden told The Aspen Times Sunday night. He said he did “absolutely nothing” for the D.A.’s office. “I don’t know anything about that,” he said.Fred Truden didn’t return messages left at his home yesterday for comment about the contradiction.Questions remainColleen Truden became agitated yesterday when reporters sought more information about her husband’s work for her office. She refused to estimate when her husband worked on her office’s computer system, for how long or what he was paid.Truden vehemently denied that her disclosure to the Garfield County commissioners contradicted what she told reporters after meeting with the Pitkin County commissioners.But one of her primary critics said Truden’s evolving story creates suspicion among the public and fuels questions about her honesty.”I feel it was deliberately deceptive,” said Sherry Caloia, an attorney in Glenwood Springs and a Democratic Party activist. She said she is considering mounting a recall effort against Truden in July.Caloia said Truden’s hiring of her husband isn’t the issue. Her apparent effort to hide the hiring is the problem.”I don’t think it’s illegal to hire Fred,” Caloia said. “If she had been upfront about it, it wouldn’t be an issue.”Caloia contended that Truden’s handling of the hiring of her husband combined with other personnel issues indicate something is wrong with her management style.”All of her choices are just bad ones,” said Caloia. “That’s enough for a recall.”Five prosecutors have quit since Truden took office in January. Some claim they were ordered to leave their offices immediately after resigning even though they offered to serve for several weeks after giving notice. At the meeting with Pitkin County commissioners, the district attorney said that “not one” deputy district attorney or office worker who resigned in recent weeks was escorted off the premises ahead of the scheduled last day.The shortage of lawyers has left the D.A.’s office scrambling to keep up with its caseload in a district that includes Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties. Truden downplayed the turnover while briefing the Garfield County Commissioners. “We should be up to staff in a very short time here,” she said.Commissioners limit their scopeTruden’s meeting with the commissioners was mostly low-key. Houpt asked the only question concerning Truden’s management style and decisions during a tumultuous first three months in office.Garfield County Commissioner Chairman John Martin said during a break that the meeting was only intended as a general update. He said the board is limited in what it can ask about personnel issues.Martin declined to say whether or not he thought Truden was deceptive about the employment of her husband. “I think you’re dealing with an attorney splitting definitions,” he said.The public will determine if that is an issue of legitimate concern, he said.”The truth always finds you and you’ll have to pay the fiddler at the end of the day,” Martin said.Houpt said she didn’t feel it was her role as an elected official to pass judgment about another elected official’s management style. “It’s the public’s role to do that,” she said.That’s why she limited her question to spending of public funds rather than personnel or management issues.’Tough’ budget session coming Truden and the commissioners scheduled a work session in June to discuss the district attorney’s budget. Garfield County contributes about $1.1 million of the office’s $1.6 million budget. The formula is based on caseload among Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties. Garfield County has the vast majority of criminal cases.Truden hinted that she will seek more money for 2005 due to unforeseen impacts on the budget, such as severance packages for prosecutors and support staff who have departed. She also blamed her predecessor, Mac Myers, for leaving behind some bills.”We found some bills that have not been paid by the prior administration,” said Truden. “It will have a major effect on the budget that we’re still assessing.”Martin said a request for additional funds for the district attorney’s office would spur a lot of questions. He said the county takes its budget seriously and doesn’t like to spend more than allotted in a specific area.”It’s going to be a tough meeting,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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