Routt County commissioners scrutinize treasurer’s legal spending at tense hearing
April 17, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — At a tense meeting Tuesday afternoon, two Routt County commissioners felt they had no choice but to accept a legal bill from their county treasurer that the commissioners had serious concerns about.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan said he thinks Treasurer Brita Horn's recent use of an outside attorney to help respond to allegations of improper campaign activity in her office was unnecessary.
He questioned why Horn needed to call an attorney, who charges a rate of $350 an hour, to deny the allegations.
"If I get a call from the newspaper, I always feel I should be able to answer their questions without talking to an attorney," Corrigan said.
Corrigan encouraged the treasurer to avoid such expenses in the future.
Commissioner Cari Hermacinski also questioned Horn's recent legal spending and expressed regret that county taxpayers would have to pay for it.
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"I have real concerns about how these funds are being used on a lot of different levels, but I don't think we have any choice but to continue to approve them," she said.
Commissioner Doug Monger was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
Horn continued to defend her legal spending on Tuesday, saying her use of the Denver attorney was necessary to refute allegations the treasurer said she knew to be untrue.
"I had to protect the integrity of my office," she said.
She also said the spending was related to her official duties as treasurer and noted she can’t use the more affordable county attorney because of a county policy that prevents her from doing so.
Horn paid her outside attorney almost $1,000 to help her respond to news articles about phone calls the treasurer made to campaign strategists from her county office.
Horn initially told Steamboat Pilot & Today she couldn't recall the purpose of her calls to Magellan Strategies. But after she consulted with an attorney at Klenda Gessler and Blue, LLC, she claimed the calls were not campaign related.
Horn claimed she was calling Magellan to book them for a summer conference of county treasurers.
The treasurer was paying Magellan to serve as a campaign consultant on her state treasurer's campaign when she made one of the calls to their office.
Horn, the commissioners and County Manager Tom Sullivan did not appear to improve their strained working relationship during Tuesday's hearing.
The treasurer talked over the commissioners at times when answering their questions.
She also got into a lengthy back and forth with Sullivan that prompted Sullivan to urge the treasurer to "calm down."
Horn claimed Sullivan was “being combative.”
The exchange started when Sullivan asked Horn whether she would be submitting a supplemental budget request for her recent legal spending, which has already exceeded her annual budget.
Horn claimed previous supplemental budget requests to Sullivan had been denied, a claim Sullivan contested.
Horn said she plans to pay for the excess legal spending by moving some savings she's found in her operations budget toward her legal budget.
Horn was also asked by Corrigan about other line items on the legal bill, including ones that referenced some "pending issues."
The treasurer said she'd have to consult her notes before providing additional details on the line items.