Treasurer responds to attorney investigation
Grand County Treasurer Christina Whitmer delivered an impassioned defense of her office’s actions in managing county investments at the Grand County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, April 5 meeting.
The address was the latest development in long simmering conflict that began when County Attorney Alan Hassler circulated a memo questioning whether her actions on certain securities were legal. A March 16 memo to the board from Hassler suggested that two securities in the treasurer’s possession were sold without the board’s consent, which seemed to violate state statute.
The board held a special meeting on the subject on March 29, though most of the discussion focused on the county’s, and more specifically Hassler’s, handing of the investigation.
The issue first surfaced during a board meeting on March 23, in which commissioners Jane Tollett and Merrit Linke indicated that they had instructed Hassler to look into the securities after concerns were raised at a meeting with the county finance department. Moments later Hassler indicated that he had looked into the matter without the board’s direction. It was later revealed that the securities were “called” – an action initiated by the issuer, not the buyer. Furthermore, an investment policy that the county adopted in 2014 seems to give the treasurer the authority to execute the purchase and sale of securities.
In her statement, Whitmer explained the practice had remained relatively unchanged during her 25 years in office.
“For the past 25 years I have operated under the belief that the existing BOCC resolutions concerning investments gave me the authorization to manage county funds, including buying and selling investments,” Whitmer said. “These resolutions are broadly written. Admittedly, they don’t speak directly to the sale of securities. However, in practice, what has happened over the course of my career is that I have made all the buying and selling decisions as the custodian of the county’s funds for the last 25 years, this practice has never been an issue or questioned by any previous county commissioners or county attorney.”
Whitmer also touted her rate of returns on county investment, which she put at more than $10 million during her tenure.
“As such, between the broadly written resolution and what was historically the accepted practice by all prior commissioners, it was my belief that I had the authority to manage the county’s funds.”
Whitmer presented the board with three choices, the first being that the board ratify her authority to “fully manage county held securities, including choosing specific investments and buying and selling those securities.”
The second choice being that the board assumes control over investing, buying, and selling decisions.
“Again, in this case, I will back away from this task, and correspondingly from taking responsibility for the outcome of those investments,” Whitmer said.
The third option would be that the board hire an investment manager to assume the treasurer’s responsibilities of managing county investments.
“I will abide by whatever decision the commissioners make,” Whitmer said. “I must say in closing, though, that this whole inquiry is curious, to say the least, and begs the question as to what prompted the county attorney to take this action.” Whitmer added that a “can of worms has been opened and now must be dealt with.”
“Thus, I want to go on the record that I will be doing nothing with regard to county help securities – no buying, no selling, no investing of any sort – until I have an acceptable and very specific resolution from the BOCC in hand detailing my authority in regard to this issue.”
Following Whitmer’s response, Hassler said he looked into the matter because he wanted to make the board aware that there was a statute allowing the board to decide were the funds from securities, whether sold or called, are allocated. He also did so to facilitate cooperation between the board and the treasurer, he said.
“I did not do it to offend the treasurer,” Hassler said. “I did not do it for any ulterior motive other than that I think my job is to bring forward legal points and to assist the board, the county and an elected official in any department with complying with legal requirements.”
Commissioners Merrit Linke and Jane Tollett said they felt the memo was not supposed to be an investigation and rather brought to light certain county policies.
“At the end of the day the commissioners are responsible for the honesty and the management and the forward thinking of the government, and I am not going to apologize for that,” Tollett said. “What we are going to work on however is better communication so that we can head these things off in the future and learn more.”
Tollett added that there was “no reason” why the commissioners shouldn’t be made aware when securities are called.
“In no means do we feel the treasurer has done a bad job, but I think it was a good thing to question and it helps us learn more about how this works so that we can be the best stewards possibly with the county‘s money,” she said.
Commissioner Kris Manguso said she didn’t feel that Hassler’s explanation was in line with the contents of the memo.
“I think if we do want to look at policies, than that’s what the memo should reflect,” Manguso said. “Apologizing? Maybe you won’t, but I will apologize for that memo, because I think that came across accusatory.”
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