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This week I’m reminded of the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished”.
As you know, our office publishes biweekly newspaper columns in the Vail Daily. They are designed to provide transparency, engage the public, and offer a venue for feedback on the work we are doing.
It provides information about the services we offer and the many opportunities, which are available throughout Eagle County by various public agencies. It highlights our law enforcement duties, as well as the incredible charitable organizations, which assist us on many fronts, and without whom we would be hampered. They have become integral members of our team and we are so grateful for their work in the community and want to highlight their achievements, for often they are the unsung heroes.
We are uniquely fortunate in the seamless way in which we all coordinate our efforts, accomplishing astounding results. The people involved are truly dedicated and so willing to go the extra mile to provide assistance to those they serve, whether resident or visitor.
The columns also help us to refine our focus, via feedback, to the changing needs of our area. They encourage public volunteerism and direction for those who wish to do more but are unsure of where they can be of most benefit.
Most who know me, know that my talent in law enforcement does not necessarily transfer to the written word. I do it and can say it, but there are those who can deliver the message much better.
When I arrived in office, I was informed that we had a professional writer and crisis management specialist on-contract. Upon reviewing the work, I renewed the contract. The amount paid, for the benefit received is immeasurable. Our office and other agencies within Eagle County have had an opportunity to be featured, and it has given the public a greater sense of participation in governance.
Payments for these public affairs services were from our Reserve Fund, which is used for a variety of community-related discretionary expenses, such as crime-stopper rewards, charity fundraisers, civic awards, youth sports sponsorship’s, scholarships, and other honorary recognition’s. It is one of the greatest joys of my position.
The Reserve Fund has been comprised of multiple revenue sources, which over the years have included donations, abandoned money, and certain confiscated funds. It is reviewed, audited, and approved annually by the Board of County Commissioners, the county’s Finance Department, and external auditors, just as it has been since before 2012.
Additionally, all expenditures from our accounts are available for public inspection online through the county’s Open Book transparency program. In short, it is public money, easily accessible for public inspection at any time.
Surprisingly this year, an organizational complaint was made, that the Reserve Fund account should be monitored more frequently. Of course, this has not been previously required, nor have I been given any formal request for such, although, as mentioned, all information is readily available 24/7.
This complaint has been delivered in the form of a charge against me, as the official who handles the account. It is considered a petty offense with a minimal fine but given the nature of the charge (2nd Degree Official Misconduct), our office will be fighting it because it implies dishonesty, which as an elected official, is unacceptable, and against my values.
The allegations cited include 14-previously approved expenditures from the Reserve Fund, made in 2019. The charge comes from a misinterpretation by the District Attorney about the review process of confiscated monies, and specifically when a committee needs to be convened for additional approval. That committee is comprised of the District Attorney, the County Attorney, and me as the Sheriff, and it only applies to the expenditure of state confiscated funds, which the Reserve Fund does not contain. The expenditures were used, in the same manner as in all years prior, followed by the customary annual audits, which have always been approved. The County Attorney has assured us that we properly followed all statutory protocols.
Naturally, we will present compelling evidence of the proper use of this Reserve Fund and anticipate the matter to be promptly dropped. However, per my commitment to transparency, I wanted to inform the public of what has just occurred.
If you have any questions, please contact me. Meanwhile, the newspaper columns and our community projects will continue. I have been truly moved by the response we have received over the years and will continue to provide you with interesting and necessary information, as well as continued support of our many wonderful charitable endeavors.
Thank you for the honor of serving as your Eagle County Sheriff and your continued trust.
James van Beek