Terri Velasquez, the city's former director of finance and administrative services, kicked up a duststorm of accusations after being terminated in July.
Her claims, issued by her attorney in August, describe city officials being overpaid, Taxpayer's Bill of Rights requirements ignored, and a cover-up of stolen money during the city's disastrous first U.S. Olympic Committee economic development deal. Velasquez, who may seek as much as $1 million in damages, paints herself as a hapless government watchdog, saying her efforts to hold people accountable led Chief of Staff Steve Cox to fire her. (Cox calls that claim "hogwash.")
To her credit, documents and correspondence, obtained through an Independent Colorado Open Records Act request, do show city employee mistakes and conflicts. What they don't appear to show is much animosity toward Velasquez.
Here's a peek into some of Velasquez's most stinging and highly publicized accusations.
Velasquez alleges: The city received $2 million from El Pomar Foundation in 2008 for its USOC deal. In early 2009, Velasquez notified superiors that at least $94,000 was being misused by developer LandCo Equity Partners. City leaders attempted to cover up the issue, and Velasquez was repeatedly asked to assure the money was spent only as directed. She refused, never having seen proof that misused funds were returned. She notes that she provided the district attorney's office with information before she was put on administrative leave.
Records show: E-mails show city staff clearly believed LandCo inappropriately spent tens of thousands in El Pomar money. However, there's little hint of a cover-up. Instead, e-mails show many city workers — including Velasquez — attempting to identify misused funds and demand them back from LandCo. The city reluctantly made El Pomar aware of the problem.
The issue took a while to resolve. But budget director Lisa Bigelow produced records showing that LandCo agreed to repay $746,708 as part of an August 2009 legal settlement. She says the money owed to El Pomar was included.
"It's all paid back," Bigelow says. "Everything is taken care of."
Velasquez alleges: Bigelow inappropriately tried to exclude funds from the city's TABOR calculation to prevent a small refund to taxpayers despite protests from Velasquez and the city attorney's office. Privately, Velasquez alleges, Bigelow "waved her finger in a circle and whistled and said it was not a big deal."
Velasquez says she had to consult a city auditor, and convince the city attorney's office to issue a written legal opinion, before Bigelow acquiesced, at the orders of Cox.
Records show: It's possible that the e-mail records on this issue fail to express the tension Velasquez describes in private meetings. That said, e-mails simply show a disagreement about the rules. And Cox sided with Velasquez.
Velasquez alleges: Then-Fire Chief Steve Cox and others, including former Deputy Chief Dan Raider, received overpayments from payrolls. Confronted by Velasquez, Cox became angry. After reporting the issues to the city auditor, Velasquez says she was asked to resign. She declined. Velasquez says Cox paid back money he owed. Raider didn't.
Records show: As the Indy has reported, Cox was overpaid $4,913 in June 2010, and he was perturbed with Velasquez and others for allowing the slip to happen. However, Cox at no time expresses anger at having to pay back the money, or that he intends to fire Velasquez. Cox paid back the money.
There is no record that Raider remitted any funds. City spokesperson John Leavitt says he was told Raider never owed any money. The city could not produce records supporting that claim.
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