When you see an elected politician roll up his sleeves and take up the challenge of a difficult but important campaign promise, it sure can restore some of your faith in the system and in the judgment of your fellow citizens.
That’s exactly how I feel as the new slate of Jefferson County commissioners has tackled and confronted the waste and corruption that have been plaguing some departments of government. The Denver Post explored the story in depth on Sunday and followed up with a laudable editorial in today’s edition.
Sunday’s story revealed many glaring problems with the way our county government has run in recent years, including this dandy:
Among Jefferson County employees, Bob Roark is the king of plastic.
Over the last four years, the technology manager charged $3.7 million on his government-issued credit cards as part of an unusual county program to build PCs from scratch.
Because the purchases, blessed by his bosses, veered outside standard financial controls, documentation is often scarce or incomplete. And though he insists the equipment – including about $1 million spent through a friend working at a PC warehouse – went into making computers, he cannot track the whereabouts of many parts.
The large credit-card charges are not illegal, though in some cases they appear to have violated county policy. But the lack of review over those purchases is part of a pervasive breakdown in financial oversight involving portions of the county’s $500 million budget.
Since 2001, Jefferson County employees have handled millions of dollars in transactions without competitive bidding, close supervision or contracts – and sometimes in conflict with policies, according to a Denver Post review of hundreds of purchasing and accounting records from 2001 through February of this year.
But reformers Jim Congrove and Kevin McCasky, who were elected to two of the three commissioner posts last November, started to challenge the status quo without any outside media pressure prompting them to act. From what I have seen, these are both men of the deepest integrity and fortitude. I personally am thankful they are in office watching out for the interests of Jefferson County’s taxpaying citizens. I have also heard good things about newly-appointed Commissioner Dave Auburn, who filled the final position after Rick Sheehan resigned under a growing cloud of controversy.
Today’s Post editorial gives them their worthy recognition:
The county seems to be making the right changes, and should be applauded for tackling the problem on its own, without being prompted by a public outcry or news stories.
One of the first moves was to let finance director Charles Montoya go. He “didn’t want aggressive accounting,” the county’s director of accounting says.
The commissioners also established an office of the internal auditor – a position independent from the finance department. They hired Susan Johnson, a CPA who earlier was forced out of a job by Montoya for raising red flags. The commissioners then hired an outside auditor to search for fraud – a key move to help re-establish their credibility with citizens.
But fixing these problems isn’t done without resistance. And sometimes a little intrigue is added in, like the revelation this week that JeffCo has opened up an investigation on many missing confidential files from the county attorney’s ofice.
We Americans are very good at complaining about the corrupt, spineless, and weak-kneed politicians. But when our elected officials do the right thing and seek to live up to their campaign promises despite the massive challenges, do we thank them? I say that Congrove, McCasky, and Auburn deserve the gratitude of JeffCo’s citizens. And let’s make sure that they continue to be responsive to our needs and interests.
It’s almost enough to dispel some cynicism about our political system.