Certified Public Accountant Dennis Simpson, a long-time advocate for transparency in Grand Junction City and Mesa County government, discovered that in 2019 Mesa County purchased two new late model SUVs at a cost of $45,000 each, for the exclusive use of Commissioners Scott McInnis and John Justman. Before that time, Simpson noted, the County had provided a single passenger car for all three commissioners to share. He also noted that the decision to greatly increase this transportation expense for taxpayers was not made in public, and that while Commissioner Rose Pugliese tried to distance herself from the purchase, she failed to protest it publicly.
When Simpson raised these issues to Scott McInnis, McInnis deflected attention from the matter by asking Simpson to instead focus on coming up with financial suggestions for ways the County can cope with the COVID-19 pandemic rather than concerning himself with the purchase of the vehicles, which McInnis dismissed as unimportant.
Simpson obliged and produced the following suggestions, which he submitted to all three county commissioners on March 19, 2020.
Here’s what Simpson proposed, with more suggestions to follow later:
- The most important thing the three of you can do is to be transparent in all aspects. Employees and community members are going to have to make significant sacrifice. It is very important that you display an open and caring process as you face the months ahead. It is critical that everyone understands not only the painful decisions you reach but also the process used in reaching these decisions. I suggest that you immediately acquire technology that will allow you to meet remotely. You should plan on meeting daily and all of your discussions should be streamed live on the internet. You will need to meet remotely with a variety of people to fully understand the impact of choices you will face. I have talked to an expert who believes this technology can be implemented quickly without excessive expense.
- You need to gain trust that I believe is missing. People need to know you are willing to put in extraordinary hours. IT will not be good enough for you to just say that you are working hard but to clearly demonstrate specifics of what you are doing.
- The first budget cuts should come at the top. You should temporarily reduce your own compensation and the compensation of other high paid people (excluding other elected officials) by at least 20%. You should ask all other electeds to follow suit and publicize the names of any who refuse to accept the cut. It may be that state law limits your flexibility in this area and if it does, the governor should be asked to assist in getting the law changed post haste.
You also need to immediately sell the SUVS that have been the topic of our earlier discussions. You don’t have to admit that you were wrong but simply state that the pandemic has caused you to get rid of anything that is not absolutely essential.Please let me know if this type of input is helpful. These ideas will only make a small dent in your budget deficit but will hopefully set the table for the much more difficult decisions to follow. I have several specific suggestions that will have a much larger impact. I will present them in future writings.