MONUMENT, Colorado — The Monument Town Council voted Tuesday evening to conduct an investigation into the alleged misuse of taxpayer funds in the run-up to the November election.
As we first reported Friday, an amended campaign finance report submitted after the election by the Citizens for Home Rule campaign committee lists the town as a donor of a non-monetary contribution with a fair market value of approximately $2500. Voters approvedof the home rule charter amendment 68 to 32 percent.
News 5 has since uncovered financial documents that prove the town paid a local printing company to create the door hangars and yard signs that urged voters to "Vote Yes" on the home rule ballot question. Town administrators released 12 pages of financial records in response to a Colorado Open Records Act request submitted by KOAA.
The documents include a check in the amount of $2,592.50 paid to Tri-Lakes Printing on April 29. That payment covered two invoices for $80 worth of business cards, as well as 4,000 door hangars, and 125 coroplast yard signs.
"The Town of Monument's money is the taxpayers' money. That is called electioneering and it is illegal," Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Elliott said after the special meeting.
The Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act prohibits state and local money from being spent on political campaigns for ballot questions.
"Any time you spend the public's money, it doesn't matter what it's spent on if it's not spent correctly and if there's misappropriation of funds then we have to look into that because we have to figure out how do we prevent this from happening in the future," said council member Darcy Schoening.
Additional records show the town paid the law firm Hoffman, Parker, Wilson, and Carberry some $11,280.46 for its work giving legal advice to the Home Rule Charter Commission. A spreadsheet summary lists the check to the printer as well as $520.31 paid to the Colorado Springs Gazette to publish official notices of public meetings. Gazette invoices released with the financial records show a balance due of $806.74.
Hoffman, Parker, Wilson, and Carberry is the employer of the current town attorney, Kathryn Sellars who was absent from the special meeting. The records also include an email chain sent by incoming town council member Sana Abbott who forwarded the Tri-Lakes Printing invoice to Town Manager Mike Foreman for payment.
Tuesday's special meeting was highly emotional. A new board will take office in January, and some of the current board members ran against and lost to candidates who were a part of the town's Home Rule Charter Commission which is now under investigation.
Board members were loudly criticized during the public comments session. Much of that criticism came from Steve King who served on the Home Rule Charter Commission and is one of the incoming council members. He questioned the necessity of spending town funds on an outside attorney.
"If you had any ethics, you would've stepped down when your terms expired on November 8th," King told the board. "If you had any ethics you would go out gracefully instead of burning down the town on your way out."
King made multiple claims during the meeting that the Colorado Secretary of State's Office is investigating the town's donation.
"I think that there are alternatives for an investigation and the Secretary of State has opened up one already," he said during an interview with News 5 following the board meeting.
Two board members told us they were unaware of an investigation by the Secretary of State.
"I question that because I have not heard of that," Mayor Pro Tem Elliott said. "The other board members have not heard of it, nor has the town manager heard of it. And so, we are not aware of a Secretary of State investigation taking place."
Mayor-Elect Mitch LaKind also said he was unaware of an investigation by the Secretary of State.
"If I knew, then I could tell you no comment," he said. "But I don't know."
Annie Orloff, a spokesperson for Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, explained the town is responsible for handling campaign finance violations and complaints as a home rule municipality. The secretary does not have jurisdiction over the matter.
When asked about his claim, King admitted, "I don't have confirmation of that. I got this secondhand from somebody who talked to the Town Clerk, and the Town Clerk said that it was mandatory that it had to be, that it had to go through the Secretary of State."
While the meeting agenda included a resolution to hire former Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler as an independent investigator, the board ultimately voted to postpone such action. Gessler did not attend the meeting.
Mayor-Elect LaKind said he supports an investigation, but questioned the rush to hire an outside attorney.
"We had no supporting documentation in the resolutions that we’re accustomed to. And then the supposed attorney didn’t show up to be interviewed.”
He added he was no longer concerned about the town funds spent on the campaign, "because the town has been made whole."
Another amended campaign finance disclosure filed with the Town Clerk Monday indicated the previous in-kind donation by the town was transferred to a Brandy Turner.
King said during his interview that he shared LaKind's commitment to investigating this issue.
"Absolutely, but when it comes to spending $20,000, you know that kind of changes the game."
Some of the speakers who made public comments criticized the selection of Gessler by claiming he was sued for a similar Fair Campaign Practices violation.
Colorado Supreme Court records that show Gessler was sued as Secretary of State by the progressive group Colorado Common Cause in response to a rule he enacted. While the legal discussion explored potential conflicts between Gessler's rule and existing state law, nothing in the ruling suggested he personally violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act.
When reached by phone for comment, Gessler said he was unaware of the accusations made against him during the public meeting.
"During my years in office I became accustomed to petty ad hominem attacks, and that's what this sounds like," Gessler added.
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