Garfield commissioners question DA’s spending |

Garfield commissioners question DA’s spending

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs correspondent
Post Independent Photo/Kara K. Pearson

Garfield County commissioners took District Attorney Colleen Truden to task Wednesday for spending two-thirds of her budget in the first five months of her administration.”Figures like this scare me,” Commissioner John Martin said.Truden spent almost three hours in front of the commissioners, answering questions about overspending and accounting procedures and defending her budget.Truden has come under fire since nine attorneys and staff members left shortly after she took office in January. She has also been criticized for contracting with her husband for computer work in her office.Truden said the only way she could stay within her budget is if the county pays about $400,000 from a personnel contingency fund to cover salaries of newly hired staff.In a phone interview after Wednesday’s meeting, Truden said getting the $409,000 “is the only way I can keep people employed, otherwise I’ll have to let everyone go.”At times Truden bristled under the commissioners’ questioning.”I’d like to know if I’m being held to a different standard. … I just want to make sure I’m not being treated differently because of the skewering I’m getting in the papers,” she said.But Martin assured her she was not being singled out for questioning.”No one is being picked on; everyone is being treated equally,” he said.Truden blames much of her budget shortfall on former District Attorney Mac Myers, who she said drew up the 2005 budget without her involvement.Among the items not covered in the 2005 budget are $8,646 in workers compensation that was not paid when she took office; about $1,300 in dues to the Colorado District Attorney Council; about $1,200 in employment taxes for 2004; $39,000 in year-end bonuses paid to staff by Myers before he left office and $66,250 in paid absences, including sick and vacation leave, paid to employees in 2004.However, Truden said she would not seek supplemental budget money from the county for those shortfalls but would make them up in her budget by the end of the year.The $400,000 Truden has requested from the county is 68 percent of a total $602,000 in personnel costs, Garfield County’s share of Truden’s budget. The Ninth Judicial District also encompasses Rio Blanco and Pitkin counties, which also contribute to her budget.The district attorney came under heaviest fire on Wednesday for bringing in Glenwood Springs architect Chuck Brenner to draw up plans for remodeling her office. Brenner gave her an estimate of $73,611 for the remodeling, as well as his services in walking through her office and suggesting improvements. Brenner said his fees for the preliminary work, about $7,700, had been paid and the remainder was an estimate for remodel work, which he would bid on if it was approved by the commissioners.Commissioner Trési Houpt chastised Truden for calling in Brenner without informing the commissioners, who budget for such remodels.”You spent money on a project we didn’t have money budgeted for. I’m baffled about who you think makes those decisions,” Houpt said.”If I was wrong, ‘mea culpa,'” Truden said. “I was wrong … If (you don’t approve the remodel) I’ll put it in next year’s budget.”Truden also defended her expenditures on computer work when she took office, including hiring her husband, Fred, to install a new server and computer software. Truden’s office paid her husband’s company, Mediate It Inc., more than $6,000 for six weeks of computer work and $6,530 to another company, DeskTop Consulting Inc., during the same six-week period, according to office billing records.”We are a paper-driven business … (and) it was going to take twice as long to get it done. I employed an additional consulting company, Mediate It Inc., to help Mike (Wynn, of DeskTop Consulting) to prepare the 25 computers (in the office),” Truden said.Wynn told the commissioners he and Fred Truden worked together on the computer system and he spent some time training Fred in the work that was needed.”I brought Fred up to speed and I don’t believe the services were duplicated. The time frames were the same,” he said.Truden said she will ask the commissioners for $55,374 to cover money spent on those computer services.The commissioners questioned Truden about her ability to stay within her budget for the remainder of the year. “It’s hard to understand how you will get it under control,” Houpt said.”I disagree that it’s out of control,” Truden countered.Martin acknowledged that Sheriff Lou Vallario overspent his budget in his first year in office. Martin appeared to be willing to let Truden slide this year but cautioned he would “ask tougher questions in the second year.”