DA’s budget troubles are her own doing
During her meeting with the county commissioners on June 15, Colleen Truden attempted to shift the blame for her inability to manage her budget by blaming me for her overspending. I would like to address her allegations.Truden said that an unpaid workers’ compensation bill, 2005 Colorado District Attorney Council dues, unpaid employment taxes, year-end bonuses, and final paychecks to departing employees is what put her over her budget. She also accuses me of not involving her in the budget process.The 2005 budget was largely prepared prior to the August 2004 primary election when she won the Republican primary. The budget is normally turned in to the counties in early August. The only item that was addressed after Truden won the primary election was the salary of the district attorney. The budget was turned in prior to the deadline for write-in candidates, before Truden’s election in November was assured.I gave Truden a copy of the 2005 budget in October 2004 and discussed it with her at that time, including the various line items and what expenditures were budgeted in those line items. She was peeved that I advised the commissioners that the statutory minimum salary for district attorneys is $67,000. I informed Truden of the dates of the budget hearings with the various county commissioners when I got the dates, and she was invited to attend and participate. She attended the Garfield and Rio Blanco counties’ budget hearings. She missed the Pitkin County hearing because she chose to take a vacation instead of attending the hearing.Truden had meetings with various county officials, out of my presence, to discuss the budget. From those meetings, she convinced the commissioners to approve her $83,000 salary, the highest salary ever paid to a district attorney in the 9th Judicial District.Her assertion that she was not included in the budget process is nonsense.According to the June 15 article in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times, Truden claims certain bills she paid should have been paid with 2004 funds and have put her in the position she is in now. I want to address them point by point. Workers’ compensation – Garfield County did not bill us for workers’ compensation in 2004. We asked for a bill before I left office and we were told it had been paid. Our records did not confirm that and money allocated for workers’ compensation was returned to the counties when we closed our books in January. 2005 Colorado District Attorneys Council dues – CDAC dues were a budgeted item in 2005 and properly payable in 2005. That bill was left for her to pay, but it was not an item that should have been paid in 2004. Unpaid employment taxes – my administration did not pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on the office’s share of retirement contributions for the attorneys. This came to my attention in March of this year. By letter, I advised Truden that we apparently made an error in the payroll tax contribution and to go ahead and pay it. I also informed her that if her 2005 budget would not absorb that cost, because I had not spent our entire budget in 2004, she should request of the commissioners that those returned funds be used to pay that amount, which she says was $1,200. Year-end bonuses – bonuses to staff were paid from the 2004 budget and did not affect her 2005 budget at all. We used unspent money from our salaries line item and excess revenue from recovered costs to pay bonuses. Final paychecks to departing employees – eight employees left the office on Jan. 10, 2005, when I left office. Those individuals included four attorneys, the chief investigator, the administrator and two legal assistants. By policy, departing employees are paid for the time worked in the current month, accrued vacation hours, and one-sixth of accrued sick hours. This is something that happens in every public office when an elected official leaves and some of the staff leaves with him/her. Accrued sick and vacation hours are paid at the time an employee leaves. When the budget was prepared, there was no way of knowing who would leave in 2005. I might add that she has had significant payouts for the five attorneys and two staff members who have left the office since she took office.Truden had the opportunity to modify the 2005 budget and, in fact, did so. The approved 2005 budget was significantly different than the one I submitted, so it was apparent that she had the opportunity to make whatever changes she wanted.Truden’s biggest problem is that she does not understand budgeting. No money was budgeted for engineers, architects, remodeling, new computer equipment, or computer support beyond what we paid MicroSolutions for its excellent service. Her problems came from treating a public budget like it was her own personal checking account that she could use for any whim she might have.To suggest that she may have to lay off staff is absurd. Every employee’s salary and benefits were budgeted for. Personnel costs are approximately 80 percent of the district attorney’s budget. If she uses money allocated for personnel costs, it is only because she has spent their money on some unapproved expense.Mac Myers is Colleen Truden’s predecessor as the district attorney for the 9th Judicial District. He is now a deputy district attorney in Cortez.