Dear Citizens of El Paso County,
We’ve become aware of some potentially serious issues concerning personnel practices at the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, particularly the ‘front office’ senior staff. We’ve dug into this as deep as we can go, but frankly both EPSO and the county have not been terribly forthcoming.
Two Serious Issues
If these concerns are true, they are very serious and may point to potential criminal misconduct. The seeming lack of interest by EPSO and the county in determining if there is wrongdoing is startling. There are two main issues which we’ll elaborate on in this post:
1. Possible pay and allowance fraud
This concerns the incumbent Administrative and Support Bureau Chief (Administrator), a non-sworn civilian we believe has been drawing an improper higher, sworn officer pay rate for three years.
We’ve done some investigation and the evidence strongly suggests the Administrator has been overpaid approximately $14,600 over the past three years. That data is contained near the end of this post, but we first want to walk through the frustrating process we’ve undergone trying to get either EPSO or County HR to step forward and handle this properly.
2. Possible improper job creation and hiring procedures for certain front office staff
EPSO appears to have bypassed county hiring policies for creating, sourcing, and hiring certain incumbents, depriving potentially more qualified civilians from competing for good jobs, and possibly exposing the county to civil liability.
Our look into these areas began with a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request dated October 28, 2017, a copy of which can be found here: Angley’s CORA Letter re: Staff Hiring.
As you can see from our request, we wanted to pin down EPSO on the question of whether or not the Administrator was being paid a sworn rate which would appear to be irregular since the incumbent is a non-sworn civilian.
We also wanted to see documentation concerning the process by which certain front office positions were created, advertised to the public, applications solicited and reveiwed, and a final selection made.
We received a response from the EPSO Public Information Officer (PIO) on November 9, 2017 (12 days for receipt, exceeding Colorado’s 3-day turnaround requirement by 9 days). It stood out for two reasons:
- The statement that we had already received pay information for the Administrator is true, but the somewhat flippant comment that ‘nothing has changed’ is revealing. More below.
- The fact that every personnel-related document we sought apparently does NOT exist is alarming. Documents SHOULD exist if EPSO had correctly followed County Human Resources (HR) procedures for these jobs.
To state that ‘nothing has changed’ between our separate CORA requests evades a central concern. It avoids answering these important questions:
- Is the Administrator drawing a higher pay than he is qualified to receive?
- If the Administrator is being paid an improper, higher rate, then what actions are being taken to recoup this overpayment and refund the taxpayers?
EPSO had an opportunity to simply answer these questions, but chose instead to avoid them. If the Administrator is receiving the correct pay, then why not just state that?
The added comment that, ‘nothing has changed,’ while petulant and gratuitous, raises another concern that we doubt the PIO intended. It means that IF the Administrator has been receiving an incorrect pay rate, then EPSO has no intention of correcting it. If EPSO had taken action to correct it, then something would have changed: his pay would have been lowered to what he’s authorized.
- Did the county continue to pay the Administrator an incorrect amount in November and December despite being notified of a possible irregularity in October?
- If it’s true that the Administrator has received, and continues to receive, more pay than authorized, is it a possible pay and allowance criminal fraud matter?
- Has EPSO initiated a criminal investigation?
- Did EPSO notify the County Attorney and possibly the District Attorney?
- Has EPSO or the county begun a recoupment process?
- Who authorized the possible incorrect pay to begin with and why?
With respect to the front office positions, the lack of documentation for their creation is disconcerting. Every job, if created properly, should have a file associated with it showing how it was created and sourced.
The lack of documents suggests normal County HR procedures were bypassed.
This generates a host of other concerns:
- WHY were these particular jobs created and sourced outside of normal procedures when it would seem most other jobs were sourced properly?
- Why were the specific people who hold these jobs selected in an essentially sole-source manner, handpicked to fill high-paying jobs?
- By not following normal HR procedures, the public was denied an opportunity to compete for them, depriving potentially more qualified people from landing great jobs.
- Doesn’t this open both EPSO and the county to potential civil liability because the public was denied these opportunities?
- Who authorized these possible HR process deviations and why?
Was County HR Aware?
One other thing stood out about the CORA reply we received. There was NO indication EPSO sent it over to the County HR office for coordination or a joint response. This is in contrast to the prior CORA we submitted seeking pay information as referenced earlier. That first response specifically noted it was coordinated with County HR because it pertained to personnel.
Why would EPSO fail to coordinate this second personnel-related CORA with County HR?
The lack of coordination was a red flag, so we sent a letter directly to the County HR Director (read it here). At a minimum we thought HR, which now handles EPSO personnel, should be aware of our concerns since they point to potential criminal violation and civil liability.
County Attorney Responds
We never heard back from the HR Director, but we did receive a letter from the County Attorney. Read it here.
Once again, we were left dismayed by what this response did NOT say. More on that in a moment, but first, a few observations about what it contained.
It was an unsolicited legal lesson in the CORA process. It ends with a statement about clearing up any confusion on our part. We can assure the County Attorney we were never confused at all about CORA.
The recitation of how CORA works was unnecessary and seemed to be a vehicle to steer around and avoid the central issues: possible pay and allowance fraud and possible improper HR processes that could lead to liability for the county.
Yes, we understand that government is only required to produce responsive documents and has no obligation to answer questions, rhetorical or otherwise.
But one would think that by raising the specter of possible FRAUD, the County Attorney would send back a laser-focused reply that hit that central issue directly.
By avoiding it, it gives the appearance the County Attorney is uninterested or perhaps simply bothered we surfaced it. It runs counter to any notion of government accountability and transparency. As taxpayers, as voters, the citizens of this county deserve better.
Has the County Attorney, presumably a duty-bound officer of the court, taken any action in the interest of justice? We can’t tell from the response, but due to its evasive feel, we doubt it.
Yes, we understand that when government cannot produce responsive documents, then stating that is perfectly acceptable. We get that.
But in this case, it’s precisely the LACK of documents that IS the problem. The absence of proper HR documentation for these positions is potential evidence that they were managed in complete violation of HR policy and procedure from cradle to grave.
This may open the county to liability from citizens who were otherwise well qualified for these jobs.
- Has the County Attorney alerted HR to this possibility?
- Has she initiated an investigation to determine if these jobs were handled properly?
Again, hard to tell, but our bet is NO.
Has the Administrator Been Overpaid? We Think So
Investigating the issue of whether or not the Administrator has been overpaid for three years wasn’t terribly difficult.
In its response to our first CORA request about salaries, EPSO provided a spreadsheet containing the current salaries of the front office staff: Salary & Benefits 2013-17.
Line 8 shows that in 2017, the Administrator’s salary was $111,500 with an additional $29,847 in benefits, for a total compensation package of $141,347.
Two other documents come into play. First, the 2016 Civilian Pay Scale (has not changed since 2016 and the rates therein apply to 2017). It shows the HIGHEST possible pay for a non-sworn civilian is $106,632 (Grade 18, Step 4).
Second, the 2016 Sworn Pay Scale shows a sworn Bureau Chief earning $111,500 at Grade 19.
The current Administrator is a non-sworn civilian who appears to be receiving a Grade 19 sworn officer’s salary. The difference between what he’s receiving and what he appears authorized to receive is $4,868 annually. Over three years this amounts to $14,604 in overpayment.
- Again, what is being done to investigate this?
- Has a crime occurred?
- When and will there be any attempt to recoup this money which belongs to the taxpayers of El Paso County?
Thumb on The Election Scale
Between EPSO’s failure to give a serious reply to our CORA, the County HR’s failure to even respond to our follow-up letter, and the County Attorney’s letter that explains CORA, ad nauseum, but never mentions the substantive issues we raised, it creates the perception of bias on the part of county officials during an election cycle.
Let’s face it, by failing to pursue potential criminal wrongdoing and possible improper job creation/staffing practices by EPSO, one candidate stands to gain: the incumbent.
All this happened on the incumbent’s watch, and possibly even at his direction. It’s part of his record, the record that merits voter scrutiny in deciding whether or not he deserves to wear the Sheriff’s badge for four more years.
The county’s actions suggest favoritism and an attempt to hide embarrassing or potentially campaign-damaging information from coming to light. That’s certainly our perception.
Instead of ignoring these serious concerns, the county has an obligation to look into them. Whether that’s a criminal investigation into possible pay fraud and/or an administrative inquiry to determine if jobs were incorrectly created and filled, something needs to be done.
Doing nothing – at least that’s what these responses suggest has happened – is never the right course of action.
When I commanded Air Force units, I’d always tell my troops, “Unlike fine wine, bad news never gets better with age.”
In this case, the bad news has turned sour and threatens more than the credibility of county officials, it creates yet more headaches and potential expense for taxpayers who are likely on the hook – once again – for alleged EPSO-related wrongdoing.
The responses we received throughout this process from county officials smack of being evasive, dodgy, and obfuscating. If no one has done anything wrong, then why not be forthcoming?
Instead, we’re left with ZERO accountability and transparency.
With Me, Accountability and Transparency GUARANTEED
I’m a different breed. I follow rules and I operate with a foundation of honesty and integrity in everything I do. I’ve done that consistently and faithfully for the last 35 years of my professional life. I will continue in that same spirit and practice when I am YOUR Sheriff.
I’ve written extensively on my website about Public Trust. It’s one of my goal ‘buckets’ and at its foundation are honesty and integrity. Without them, the public will never trust anything we do.
When you operate with these as your foundation, then Accountability and Transparency become second nature. I will never hide anything from you, the citizens of the county, nor will I ever have anything to hide.
We Need Your Help
We need your help to make this happen. Please become a delegate for me at the March 2018 caucus and County General Assembly. This election will be decided at the General Assembly, so every delegate counts and we need to count on you. Together we can do this!
Please visit our Get Involved Page for information on how you can help and how you can become a delegate.
God Bless you all.