Shows More Taxpayer-Funded Treats for County Employees
Photo Credit: TCOG
A few weeks back, we brought you the story about the $45,000 of taxpayer money that was spent on three separate zoo events. The events were designed to thank El Paso County employees for their hard work during the COVID shutdowns.
In our initial Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request to find out more details about the events, the County refused to hand over 31 requested emails.
As we pointed out at the time, we simply wanted an explanation about the expenditure of taxpayer money. None of it should have been deemed top-secret and hidden from our eyes. It was a zoo trip, for goodness sake!
One County Commissioner even defended the denial of our original request to the media. The county didn’t expect any push back. They should know us a bit better than that, right?
We asked Attorney Matt Roane if he had any interest in the matter. He requested the records for himself. The County hemmed and hawed for a bit, but they handed the records over to us. Here’s the response we received from the County’s PIO:
Hello Ms. Marshall,
Regarding your request for the 31 withheld documents, we have had the opportunity to discuss this further with County Administration and the County Attorney’s Office. Upon further review and consideration, the County is waiving its privilege under the previous noted deliberative process exception at C.R.S. § 24-72-204(3)(a)(XIII). Accordingly, the County is releasing the 31 requested emails. Although the County is now voluntarily choosing to waive this privilege, the County reserves the right to defend its privilege as originally asserted in Mr. Waters affidavit if necessary.
Momentarily I will be sending you a link allowing you to download the requested documents.
El Paso County, Public Information Office
Here are the emails for you to read. Feel free to reach out to us if anything catches your eye.
Here is what we found in the emails:
First, it wasn’t only zoo trips that taxpayers funded as a reward for County employees. In fact, the County formed an 18-person committee to come up with ideas to reward employees. The 18-person committee was called “EPCelebration.” In addition to the $500,000 deal for the Olympic Museum that granted free annual passes to County employees, you also picked up the tab for a Switchbacks soccer game, too. We asked for the invoice from the Switchbacks, and the County provided it to us. You paid $9,000 for employee tickets to the game, and an additional $1,065 to have the message, “El Paso County wishes to thank and recognize its employees in attendance for their dedication and service to the community. Thank you for all you do!” posted on the stadium score board. We much would have preferred the County purchase Hallmark cards for employees —it’s the thought that counts, right?
All of this is from the same El Paso County that wants to keep your TABOR overage. That will be on your November ballot. Sounds to us like they don’t need any more of your money. When they feel so flush with cash that they can spend $1,065 for an electronic thank you message, they aren’t thinking about repairing roads.
When we saw that the Switchbacks invoice was sent to El Paso County Economic Development, we had to wonder if COVID relief funds were used to provide County staff with another freebie, as was the case with the Olympic Museum passes. The County public information staff reported to us that the funds came out of the County’s general fund.
We’ve filed another CORA request to dig into that topic further. We’ll keep you posted.
If you’d like to pitch in a few bucks to help pay for the CORA, we’d sure appreciate it. Here’s the donation link. We expect it to be pricey.
We’ll keep you posted on what we find and we’ll keep looking out for you, El Paso County!