A timeline of the Grand County building department scandal
Oct. 7, 2013 — County commissioners began planning the 2014 budget, which lead to the discovery of missing funds in the building department.
According to meeting minutes, Commissioner Gary Bumgarner questioned the year-to-date revenue of $14,000 for building permit fees.
Chief building official and department head Scott Penson said revenue shown was low, and he believed that it was around $50,000. County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran told commissioners that one of the building officials trades off and works in the maintenance department.
County officials later told the Sky-Hi they initially thought the missing funds were a computer glitch.
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Oct. 9, 2013 — During their regular budget hearings, the county commissioners agreed to accept the building department budget as presented.
Oct. 22, 2013 — During their regular public meeting, county commissioners discussed doing building inspections for the county’s towns.
“Chairman (James) Newberry suggested that the County send a letter to the towns letting them know how the County has improved services and ask if they are interested in participating with the County,” meeting minutes said. Chief Building Official Scott Penson “will draft a letter for the Board to review and sign.”
The Town of Fraser left the county building department in 2007, using the Town of Winter Park’s services instead. Granby joined up with the Town of Winter Park’s building department in 2010.
Oct. 30, 2013 — Finance Director Scott Berger approached County Treasurer Christina Whitmer to confirm deposits from the building department. When she couldn’t confirm the deposits, Whitmer contacted the county manager. At some point, County Sheriff Rod Johnson was informed of missing money in the building department, and he began a criminal investigation. The building department office was emptied, computers seized and the district attorney was notified. County officials and staff were directed by the Grand County Sheriff’s Department to refer any questions to the sheriff in order not to jeopardize the investigation.
Nov. 1, 2013 — The building department administrative assistant, Brigid Irish, was immediately terminated. Her husband Rick Irish, an inspector in the department, was asked to leave with her. According to county personnel records the Sky-Hi News recently obtained, Underbrink Curran first called Brigid into her office at around 8:30 a.m., handing her a termination form effective immediately. According to the form, her reasons for termination were “violation of county or department rule or regulation,” “insubordination,” “misrepresentation on an application form or other official records or to the public,” “falsification of work records or timecards,” and “any other acts detrimental to the good of the service by the County.”
The county manager and a human resources specialist followed Brigid to her office in the building department, where she gathered her things and turned in her keys. The county manager then informed Brigid’s husband, Rick, that he was being put on “leave of absence with pay.” According to county records, the county manager told Rick that “Brigid could explain the reasons why she was terminated and that until further investigation … she could not have him in the building department.”
Brigid Irish had worked at the building department since 2001. One of her job responsibilities was collecting payments.
Nov. 4, 2013 — Grand County commissioners issued a press release: “On Wednesday, October 30, 2013, Grand County personnel discovered that a number of checks written to the building department cannot be located at this time. Upon initial investigation, none of the missing checks have been cashed, deposited or processed.”
Nov. 12, 2013 — The county commissioners held their first executive session on the building department. They had a closed discussion on the matter for nearly an hour. Meeting minutes did not provide any further information on what was discussed.
Jan. 6, 2014 — County commissioners held another executive session on the building department, this time including Chief Building Official Penson. Meeting minutes after the session noted Penson was not part of the “illegal activities,” but should have been aware of them.
“Mr. Penson did not do anything criminal. There was a person in the department that has done something criminal. The Board would like to see that person punished,” said Commissioner James Newberry, according to meeting minutes.
Penson was allowed to continue working as the building department head, but according to the minutes, he is under probation. Comments from Commissioner Gary Bumgarner implied cash had been taken out of the department’s till.
Minutes also noted the county sheriff wants to re-interview former building department employee Brigid Irish.
According to county personnel records obtained by the Sky-Hi News, On Jan. 6, 2014, the county informed Rick his status was changed to “leave without pay.”
Jan. 14, 2014 — Commissioners and county staff issued letters to contractors with checks that had “disappeared” from the building department. The county asked the contractors to re-issue the uncashed payments. The commissioners also adopted a resolution on a cash and revenue policy with stricter cash receipt controls and accounting. Daily revenue deposits with the treasurer are now required for all county departments located in the county seat. At departments located elsewhere, deposits must be made weekly for all revenue, and daily for revenue $500 or more. The new regulations strictly forbid county employees from cashing personal checks for cash receipts, directing them instead to cash checks with the treasurer.
Jan 27, 2014 — According to personnel records, on Jan. 27, building department director Scott Penson and county officials formally terminated Rick Irish, listing “can no longer be trusted in job” as the reason. He had worked for the department since 1999.
That same day, Rick returned to the building department to collect his personal items. He met with Penson and a human resources representative. According to a Human Resources memo filed after the meeting, “Rick said that he did not do anything wrong but that he feels like he is being persecuted for it anyway. He indicated that he did not know anything about what was going on (with his wife). In addition, he said, he wondered if he was being terminated because he was a spouse.”
Penson went on to say he did not feel he could trust Rick in his position.
Feb. 5, 2014 — The county sheriff informed the Sky-Hi News that roughly $500,000 is unaccounted for at the building department, an amount that went missing over the course of 12 years.
Feb. 18, 2014 — The county sheriff informed the Sky-Hi News that his investigation had been slowed due to a history of poor record keeping and financial management at the building department.
March 3, 2014 — County commissioners held their first public hearing on the building department scandal, noting the criminal activity came from one person in the department.
“The trail led to one desk, and we took care of that almost the next day,” Commissioner James Newberry said. “The person who was at that desk was gone the next day.”
March 7, 2014 — County Treasurer Whitmer told the Sky-Hi News she’d noticed unusual activity from the building department for years, concerns she had passed on to the county manager and finance director. Checks coming deposited from the department were up to 90 days old, a signal something was wrong.
March 25, 2014 — At a county commissioner’s meeting on March 25, Grand County Attorney Jack DiCola reported that the county has “crime and employee dishonesty insurance,” and staff is working to file a claim on the building department scandal.
“We believe that it will cover 100 percent (of the theft), but until you submit a claim you don’t know,” Underbrink Curran said in an interview. This is the first time a public official referred to the missing money as “theft.”
April 1, 2014 — Grand County commissioners authorized an internal forensic accounting audit with special focus on what happened in the building department. After researching consultants and drafting a scope of work, commissioners approved a contract with Alvarez & Marsal Global Forensic and Disputes Services, LLC, during its regular board meeting on Tuesday, April 1. The contract caps payment at $90,000.
They’ll be auditing all county departments that collect money in addition to the building department. Commissioners also informed the Sky-Hi News they were partly motivated by the lagging sheriff’s investigation.
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Winter Park is hosting a dedication ceremony for its new public works building, named after longtime resident and former town official Jim Myers, on Tuesday with tours of the new structure planned.