It's safe to say Bob Balink likes furniture. He might even be a furniture aficionado.
As El Paso County clerk and recorder, Balink bought $18,614 worth in September 2007, including a snazzy 18-foot conference table, for a seldom-used Powers Boulevard branch meeting room.
Then, Balink spent another $10,313 last December on furnishings for himself after being elected county treasurer, having been term-limited from seeking a third clerk and recorder term. But he used clerk and recorder money to pay for it.
Both purchases came from Business Environments, a division of RMRM, Inc., in Colorado Springs, according to county records obtained by the Indy.
Balink has refused to comment on why he's spent nearly $30,000 on furniture. But in an e-mail response to questions, he noted he saved the county a bundle in rent by buying the Powers facility in 2007. That project included furnishing two meeting rooms (one containing the conference suite), installing training computers and equipping motor-vehicle work stations.
The $18,614 bill included the conference table ($9,632), a buffet piece ($2,597), a white board ($1,258) and 18 "pillow soft chairs," according to the invoice ($5,130, or $285 apiece). Online, we found new 18-foot conference tables priced at $3,700 to $4,500, with free shipping, and a buffet for $1,374.
Those items now reside in the new clerk and recorder space at the Citizens Service Center, 1675 Garden of the Gods Road. Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams says the collection was so impressive he had a room designed to accommodate it. He says the conference room is used multiple times a week and is available for county meetings and training.
As far as the treasurer's furnishings go, Balink got an estimate on Dec. 14, 2010 from Business Environments for a U-shaped desk for himself ($4,124), a high-back executive chair ($249.50), an 8-foot conference table ($1,309), two bookcases ($1,066), eight mid-back chairs ($1,916) and other items. Again, we found similar items online for less.
On Dec. 16, Balink, still working as clerk and recorder, transferred $75,000 from the clerk's budget to an account the county uses to fund maintenance of common areas at the new Citizens Service Center. The transaction didn't require county commissioners' approval.
On Dec. 29, Balink was sworn in as treasurer and the county issued a purchase order for the furnishings; the next day, the goods were delivered to his downtown office, records show. Then, in January, as treasurer, Balink used the clerk's funds in the maintenance account to pay for the furniture.
Asked by e-mail about Balink's maneuvering, Williams said, "When money is diverted to other purposes, it impacts our office's ability to deliver the service level our citizens expect."
Balink's predecessor as treasurer, Sandra Damron, had used the furniture she inherited, including a decades-old conference table, desk and chairs. She bought a computer desk and two side chairs when she took office in 2003, she says.
Asked if she would have replaced the furniture if she'd had a third term, Damron says, "No, because it was OK and it was not anything that I felt was a priority." However, Damron notes the conference table chairs were pretty shabby.
The furniture Balink ditched was declared surplus and either used by other departments or pitched.