Jefferson County's Clerk and Recorder is defending a taxpayer-funded party for staff in Colorado even as county commissioners consider big budget cuts. The party last month included gifts like Apple AirPods, a robot vacuum and a telescope.
Clerk Amanda Gonzalez says the party was about employee appreciation and retention. She says her election workers have endured threats, workers in the records division have seen marriage applications double and most of those in the clerk's office, she says, make between $22-24 an hour. Since she can't give them raises, she says, she gave them appreciation in the form of a catered party and gifts.
Jefferson County resident -- and government watchdog -- Natalie Menten says it's an example of government waste. She heard rumors about the party and filed an open records request to see if there was any truth to them.
"I was really shocked. I thought it be like one or two things," Menten said.
She admits a party alone won't lead to less turnover.
"I see this as one of the ways that we set a culture where it is a good place to work and when we're saving the county resources in having high turnover."
If that's the case, Menten says, then the clerk's office should have detailed the expenses in the county's check register.
A hardcore fiscal conservative, Menten says every Jefferson County taxpayer should be outraged.
"They've seen their grocery bills go up. They've tightened their belt. They want government to do these same things -- watch their budget, tighten their belt and quit crying wolf about 'We don't have enough money,'" she said.
Menten says taxpayers should demand more oversight and transparency, including the posting of detailed check registers -- not just budgets -- online along with all credit card purchases and competitive bid contracts. Citizens, she says, shouldn't have to file open records requests and pay hundreds of dollars to see how their tax dollars are being spent.
Gonzalez says she paid for the party using savings achieved from job vacancies and she says senior level staff were not eligible for gifts, which were doled out according to a drawing.
A county spokesperson wouldn't say how many other department heads use tax dollars for staff appreciation events, but she says commissioners are looking at changes to the county's gift policy to make sure they're demonstrating "good fiscal stewardship of taxpayer dollars."
The current gift policy only bars the use of taxpayer dollars for monetary gifts, including gift cards, for employees.
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