Merida Elects to Repay Overages, Raises Questions About DPS Accounting Practices

DPS board member Andrea Merida today retracted a previous statement that she would not repay more than $8,000 in excess spending. Yesterday, Merida claimed that she would not reimburse the district because her spending was for “legitimate community engagement kinds of things and there is a lot of professional development lumped into that.”

The unrepentant Merida has merely been dialed back, not put in a corner entirely, as Merida’s statement on her website this morning shows:

Just a quick note to tell you that I’ve decided to pay back what I overspent from our board allotment.  I want to be very clear, however, that I did not personally benefit from any of the expenses.  There is no personal enrichment here, only spending to outreach to you and to become a better board member.

Perhaps Merida is a Ward Churchill fan, seeing as she’s apparently agreed to do the right thing after trying everything else.

It’s hard to see how there’s no personal benefit from things like restaurant dinners; granted, these may indeed be expenses she would not have otherwise incurred, but constituent meetings can easily be held without spending money.

The board president and I will go over what that amount actually is, since there’s still a lot of confusion about what should be part of the allotment and what is “traditionally” covered as a function of our duties.  Once we get the accounting straightened out, I will know what the amount is and will work to pay it back, however painful.  It’s only right.

This begins to raise some questions that go beyond Merida’s role on the DPS board: Why would any person be given a credit card without a specific and detailed spending policy? Anyone who’s ever held a corporate credit card has likely also had the privilege of reading at length and signing a spending agreement roughly the length of War and Peace.

The board president and I are also working together to put some policy in place.  Nothing should be left to memory, and our procedures need to be put down on paper as we transition for the next board that will be elected in November.  We still don’t have a system to help members track what they’re spending, and it’s not fair to anyone (especially to you) to leave things so loose.

No system to track spending? Really? In the Internet age? DPS watchdogs should investigate this claim and, if it’s proven true, advocate for the implementation of a system to track and control spending on all DPS credit cards. There are numerous software options that would likely pay for themselves within one year if they prevented both the overspending that occurred this year and the resultant PR mess.

Merida’s never been the most popular elected official on this blog, and her arrogance at the outset of this scandal rightly provoked outrage. However, her statement today should not be written off simply due to any personal distaste for Merida. If the accounting issues alluded to are legitimate, Merida’s misbehavior may have revealed a much larger problem.

As a former board member for a local nonprofit, I don’t think it’s improbable that certain spending policies were part of the “oral history” of the board, never committed to writing; in the community service world, it seems this sort of foolishness often is known to be a problem, but there are always other priorities and the can gets kicked down the road until something blows up. DPS observers should watch in the coming days and weeks for a statement from DPS clarifying their accounting practices and, if none is forthcoming, demand it.

The major Denver newspaper shed a little light today, which will not be linked here for the usual reasons, but what has so far been revealed raises more questions than it answers. Highlights include that the policy was last revised in 2002 and does not appear to clearly differentiate between “political work” and “community outreach.” Day care is explicitly paid for from the $5,000, but cell phone expenses (over $2,000 for Merida) are reimbursed separately. The DPS board plans to revisit and revise these policies. Taxpayers deserve clarification and the opportunity to review, at the very least, a detailed summary of the final version.

As for Andrea Merida, it will be up to her constituents to decide whether or not her performance as a board member is good enough to outweigh the air of scandal that tends to follow wherever she leads, and up to her supporters to advocate for her if they genuinely believe that she’s been wronged by this week’s media coverage. Merida should begin by excising from her circle whichever individual advised her to tell reporters she wouldn’t repay the district. If the “damn the torpedoes” strategy was a Merida original, her next batch of “professional development” spending ought to include a course in basic crisis communications.

About ProgressiveCowgirl

Colorado native, young professional, progressive cowgirl. 4-term FPE (aka masochist).

53 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. ProgressiveCowgirl says:

    Nor do I have any kids in any school system or at all. Nor do I like to eat crustaceans. Nor does my mother wear combat boots.  

  2. c rork says:

    And defend her expenses. If she has enough time to post 15 comments on her own diary, I would hope that she could make time to explain how thousands and thousands of dollars went to her meals “community meetings”.

    How many of these are documented? Is there any proof that she met with other people?

    Blaming this on a system to track spending is like receiving a credit card, spending thousands of dollars and blaming the credit card company for not calling you with your balance.

    I don’t just want $7000 back, I want every penny that went to pay for her personal expenses.

    • ProgressiveCowgirl says:

      According to the Denver paper this morning. Revised estimate?

      It would be personally satisfying to see her come back and defend this, but she’s obviously terrible at explaining herself on the spot, so if she has any real friends, they probably have threatened to ship her off somewhere with no iPhone service if she even thinks about logging onto Pols.

    • ProgressiveCowgirl says:

      I just thought it made sense for one of us to cover one statement and the other the other, in a kind of “talking heads” way. Or I just wanted an excuse to take an early lunch and blog.

  3. ArapaGOP says:

    It’s in the finest Democrat tradition of bilking taxpayers. Does she have any money in her freezer?

  4. Automaticftp says:

    to the people of Denver and the DPS board.

  5. ColoMod says:

    Coincidence that she decides to pay back on the day that the DP article comes out?

  6. sxp151 says:

    even on stupid stuff. Look how many friends she’s made on this blog by agreeing to pay back the overage! The pathetic whiners on this site hate her with the same unbridled and unceasing contempt as the teabaggers who think everything Obama does is straight out of the Communist Muhammad Blackman Manifesto.

    It’s cute how strict we imagine corporate credit cards are, though. I have a relative who runs a business and puts every meal on the company account. In fact I’ve even seen a Polster use a company account to pay for a bill at a meetup. People who imagine that this sort of thing would never be tolerated in a corporation apparently have no idea just how good management has it.

    • ProgressiveCowgirl says:

      And it’s super strict 🙁

      Barack Obama’s not a successful politician? He gives in on everything.

      • sxp151 says:

        but I suppose it depends on whether the standard is getting reelected or getting your nominal agenda implemented.

        As I said, in my experience the strictness of the corporate card policy is inversely proportional to how much power you have within the company. I’ve never really known executives in big companies, but I see lots of people in the upper management of smaller companies who go hang out at a bar for an hour, spend five minutes talking “big picture” stuff about the ad campaign or flirting on a cell phone with a client, and bill the whole thing to the company.

      • Obvious Alias says:

        I saw the receipts for chip n dales dancers. Something about staff morale…  

        • ProgressiveCowgirl says:

          Sounds like a successful team-building exercise to me.

          (You’re scarily close to right — we did almost go see “Thunder From Down Under” in Vegas as a team once. But we would have paid for it ourselves if we did. And we ended up not going.)

          • VanDammer says:

            and no Chippendales or BaddaBoom could ever cause ’em to stir

            T&E expenses still should have some documentation and Merida would be very smart to document who she meets with in these “community outreach” appts and what was discussed … but silly me just look at that, I used smart & Merida in the same sentence … wtf was I ever thinking?

            Seems like just another public funds grifter that’s overinflated with her supposed self importance.  DPS board better come clean but seems like they’re gonna circle wagons with silence — pathetic hypocrisy abounds.

  7. Say Hey Kid says:

    Arturo Jimenez may lose his seat as a result. Arturo seems like a smart guy and than he gets mixed up with a band of clowns Hiring people such as Andrea Merida is a big reason why Andrew Romanoff is out of politics today.

    • Obvious Alias says:

      but he seemed to be the only one offering any actual solutions in the Denver Post piece this morning.

      And you seem to be the only one here commenting on his demise.  I wonder what your angle is?

  8. BlueCat says:

    Looks like you were prescient when you promoted the Merida diary.  She is news and if she meant to use us as some kind of preemptive warm snuggly support system, it didn’t work out so well for her, did it?

  9. Aaron says:

    See had a limit of $5,000. She overspent.

    Now, she’s paying it back.

    End of story.

    • sxp151 says:

      And she once made a grammar error!

      And she eats a lot!

      Rage against the Merida!

    • MADCO says:

      http://andreamerida.com/2011/0


      Just a quick note to tell you that I’ve decided to pay back what I overspent from our board allotment.  I want to be very clear, however, that I did not personally benefit from any of the expenses.  There is no personal enrichment here, only spending to outreach to you and to become a better board member.

      The board president and I will go over what that amount actually is, since there’s still a lot of confusion about what should be part of the allotment and what is “traditionally” covered as a function of our duties.  Once we get the accounting straightened out, I will know what the amount is and will work to pay it back, however painful.  It’s only right.

      The board president and I are also working together to put some policy in place.  Nothing should be left to memory, and our procedures need to be put down on paper as we transition for the next board that will be elected in November.  We still don’t have a system to help members track what they’re spending, and it’s not fair to anyone (especially to you) to leave things so loose.

      Please let me know if you have questions or concerns, as always.

      7 Responses to “Paying back board expenditures”

      RJ Jaramillo says:

      September 1, 2011 at 8:46 am

      Andrea,

      I am glad you have decided to pay back the money. I would also like for you to post my comments with regard to the issue, as it gives taxpayers perspective on the bigger issue of what brought us to this issue in the first place.

      Regards…RJ Jaramillo

      admin says:

      September 1, 2011 at 8:58 am

      Thanks. This is the right thing to do, and it’s clear we have a lot of work to do on our accounting system.

      Not sure what other comment you mean, though…

      J Brown says:

      September 1, 2011 at 11:04 am

      I am also happy to see that you will pay back the taxpayers. Not knowing the rules, is not a good excuse. Responsibility to the tax payers is much appreciated.

      admin says:

      September 1, 2011 at 11:13 am

      Thank you. But because there truly aren’t any rules, we’re working together to fix it.

      Bill I. says:

      September 1, 2011 at 12:34 pm

      “But because there truly aren’t any rules,..”

      If there are no rules, why do the Denver Post and others claim there was a $5,000 limit?

      Michael Kadovitz says:

      September 1, 2011 at 12:41 pm

      Thanks Andrea!

      Putting controls in, should be an easy fix. When I was working I managed all the expense accounts for our office and keeping the controls in place, with reconciliation reports will help.

      admin says:

      September 1, 2011 at 1:09 pm

      That figure is not documented in writing in anything that was ever given to us. The point is that I’m going to pay back any overages once we go through everything, just like others are doing.

      So – she didn’t say there was a $5000 limit, she exeeded it and she’s going to pay it back.

      She’s saying that there are no  rules, at least none that were given to her in writing, so after “we go through it”  something will happen.

      Sounds kinda waffley to me.

      • Aaron says:

        Hopefully she’ll do the right thing and pay back the excess amount over $5000.

        I guess it’s not the end of the story… yet.

      • BICora says:

        I’m “Bill I.

        And after she posted her 1:09 pm non-reply reply I tried to post again twice  

        If there were no rules, what do you mean by “overage”? Others have just written a check to pay back any expense over $5,000. Why don’t you just promise to do the same?  

        And both times my post just disappeared.  As do others, apparently. see RJ Jaramillo

        • MADCO says:

          Maybe if the major local newspaper does a story, she’ll answer it.  Maybe not.

          Of course, she’s probably right.  Why would there be any rules? And, more to the point, why should she be held responsible for rules that may or may not exist if they were never given to her in writing?  I mean really. She orpbably does a lot of DPS Board work at her home, why shouldn’t DPS pay for it?

  10. sloanslake says:

    I can’t believe anyone with a brain and an ounce of integrity would defend this woman or DPS Schoolboard President Easley. This is a bonafide scandal and it looks like we got suckered.  

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