From a story that EdNews Colorado broke this morning, 4 out of 7 DPS board members spent more than the $5000 they are allotted for a fiscal year.
That includes board president Nate Easley, who overspent by $462.84, and board treasurer Mary Seawell, who overspent by $452.56. The fourth overspender was Arturo Jimenez, who exceeded the $5,000 limit by $1,623.95.
Board President Nate Easley has written a check to repay the district and Mary Seawell has pledged to repay the district, as well. Vice President Jimenez couldn’t be reached for comment. All of these amounts wouldn’t have made the news had it not been for Andrea Merida:
Board member Andrea Merida spent more than $12,000, an overspending of $7,000 in a single year, or 153 percent of her annual permitted limit. Thousands of dollars were charged to the district in restaurants and coffee shops, with her credit card statements noting their purpose as “constituent meetings.”
Merida also went over the $5,000 cap – by just $35 – in the previous fiscal year, despite only having been sworn in Nov. 30, 2009, when that fiscal year was already five months old.
Merida’s egregious mismanagement of district money shouldn’t surprise those that paid attention to her campaign; the denver paper and others have reported on her past fiscal troubles. The irony of such mismanagement is that Merida has been accusing Superintendent Boasberg and Sen. Bennet of financial malfeasance since she worked as a paid staffer on Andrew Romanoff’s campaign (while serving on the DPS board).
This begs the question; where did she spend all of that money?
In the fiscal year concluding June 30, at least $4,000 of Merida’s total, close to a third, was spent on credit-card charges at fast food establishments, restaurants, and coffee shops.
Take a close look at her documented expenditures. They look a lot like personal expenses to me. When asked whether she would reimburse the district for around $7000 of excess:
“No, I don’t intend to pay anything back because these are all legitimate community engagement kinds of things, and there is a lot of professional development lumped into that,” she said.
I wouldn’t characterize caloric intake as “professional development”. This statement contrasts with every other board member who was reached for comment, who apologized and promised to pay back their overrages promptly. Merida claims that all of this money, which appears to have been used on personal expenses is,”…the price of community engagement”. She emphatically states that she will not pay the money back because,”(school board members) weren’t given guidance on this”.
Not so, says former board member Michelle Moss:
“I recall that on at least two different occasions, talking to her about the $5,000,” said Moss. “One was the first time I met her, and that was at my house, in July or August (2009), before she was elected. I told her at that point about the money. I told her it can be expensive, all the mileage, all the places you have to be going, if you have to go to lunch with someone, or if you want to go to a conference.”
The second time she briefed Merida, Moss said, was closer to the November 2009 election, when the two had dinner; Moss believes it was after one of Merida’s debates.
In addition to all of this, Merida simply stopped listing what her expenditures were for after a while.
Asked why she stopped writing down the purpose of her expenditures, Merida said, “I think I just didn’t have time. There were a couple board meetings where maybe I wasn’t there, so I didn’t see it. My intent was always to be very transparent about that, even though people weren’t asking me for it.”
Merida’s audacity is simply breathtaking. After using the vast majority of the money allotted to her on what are obviously personal expenses, exceeding that amount by more than $7000 and failing to disclose the purpose of a large amount of expenditures, she is refusing to reimburse the district.
The gall; after creating DEFENSE to recall Nate Easley (an election that would have cost the district $100,000) and railing against Superintendent Boasberg and Sen. Bennet on trumped up charges of impropriety, she is the one guilty of mismanaging district money.
Every Coloradan contibutes to the coffers of local school districts. They deserve accountability. I hope that barely a day after her diary, Ms. Merida might be able to join us online for a “community meeting” to answer some questions. No pizza required.