The oversight of Colorado’s 10 appointed public trustees was again brought to light this month in an exchange between Weld County’s public trustee and county commissioners, this time highlighting a foggy bidding process for the public trustee office’s legal advertisements.
Weld County Public Trustee Susie Velasquez announced earlier this summer she would reject the three bids she received for legal advertising, which is the publication of foreclosures in the county. The Tribune, the Windsor Beacon and the Fort Lupton Press originally bid for the legal advertisements to be printed in their papers. But Velasquez announced she would re-solicit bids with “revised specifications” in mind.
In response, the Board of Weld County Commissioners, in a July 1 letter, encouraged Velasquez to follow the county’s bidding policy, which commissioners said is more open and transparent. If Weld commissioners wish to reject a low bid, they must give a reason why. The most common reason is to choose a local vendor instead of a company from out of the county, if the offers are competitive in price and quantity.
“The emphasis is you go for the lowest price, unless there are reasons not to accept the lowest price,” said Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker.
Velasquez said in an email this week that she was “required to reject all bids when no submitted bid met the minimum requirements established by the bidding specifications.” She did not answer an email asking what those minimum requirements were.
Expense reports from June 2011-July 2012 show that Weld County’s Public Trustee’s Office spent $243,012 on legal advertising.
Commissioners reminded Velasquez in the letter that she must follow the state’s procurement code for any purchase of $20,000 or more, and cited a portion of state statute that says the public trustee “may apply” the county’s process if that county requires an open and competitive bidding process.
Velasquez responded to commissioners this week with a letter that said she will ensure the process follows state code. But the exchange emphasized what Weld commissioners have long said is the issue with allowing 10 of the state’s public trustees to be appointed by the governor. Most of the state’s other 54 public trustees are also their county’s treasurers.
Jarrod Biggs, a local government budget analyst with Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs, said his division considers the public trustee to be an agent of the county, so the state assumes they will follow the guidelines set forth in their county for the bid process.
“With the appointed 10, they may not see their relationship with the county in the same light,” Biggs said. “But to us, at the Division of Local Government, we say just because you are appointed by the governor, doesn’t make you any less of a county officer.”
The budget for the public trustee must be approved by county commissioners, Biggs said, and added it only makes sense that other budgetary expenditures — such as those on legal advertising — would be under the county’s purview.
Still, the 10 public trustees aren’t violating any state laws if they choose not to go that route. There is no person at the state level who oversees those trustees, and they can more or less run their offices autonomously, he said.
As the public trustee, Velasquez is in charge of foreclosure transactions in Weld County and collecting associated fees. Last summer, she and eight other trustees resigned following newspaper reports on their spending of office funds. Extra money in trustees’ office funds is turned over to county coffers each year.