The Colorado City Metropolitan District Board publicly acknowledged the alleged and concrete discrepancies around former district manager and former Española city manager David Valdez’s financial practices in the District for the first time Aug. 21, save for a brief open vote in June to turn their records over to the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office.
The Board’s press release came one week after a Rio Grande SUN story reporting Valdez used a District credit card to spend over $4,000 at casinos, all of which former District officials said was reimbursed.
The press release addressed the vote to bring in the Sheriff’s Office after they found “missing documents and financial discrepancies.” It said the current Board does not have sufficient information to comment on Valdez’s credit card usage reported in the SUN, because no current Board member joined until May 2016. The credit card charges at casinos all took place in 2015.
The Greenhorn Valley View, Colorado City’s newspaper which is owned by District Board Chair Terry Kraus, published the press release on its website and Facebook page. It did not appear on the District’s website. The first released version on the View’s website was signed “Colorado City Board of Directors,” while the version released on Facebook the next day and a corrected version on its website were signed by current District Manager James Eccher.
Kraus said he would no longer speak with SUN reporters and claimed he was misquoted, hanging up before specifying how he was misquoted. He previously said the View had not published anything regarding the Sheriff’s Office investigation or the New Mexico Attorney General’s investigation into over the $18,000 which went missing in the Española Utilities Department under Valdez because Kraus did not want people to make assumptions.
“I have a very strong belief that people are innocent until proven guilty,” he said.
Eccher said he wrote the Aug. 21 statement under the direction of the Board. He said four Board members supported its immediate release and one wanted to hold a public meeting to formally approve it. A special meeting to discuss the letter was announced Aug. 20 but cancelled the next day due to an accidental discrepancy between the posted date and day of the week, which could have skirted the line of Colorado open meeting laws if the meeting occurred.
Board member Robert Cook said he did not approve the release of the statement.
Eccher said the intent of the statement was to inform people who felt the District may be hiding things, which he said it is not. He said they want to be transparent due to the Sheriff’s Office investigation, which the District invited. The investigation was forwarded to the Pueblo County District Attorney in August, but remains pending and no charges have been filed.
No charges have been filed in the New Mexico Attorney General’s investigation into the separate alleged theft of more than $18,000 from a city of Española vault, in which Valdez has not been named as a suspect.
Eccher said Kraus, who owns the newspaper in which the statement was released, made the final decision as Board Chair to publish it.
William Ellis, a Colorado City resident and administrator of the regional Facebook group in which both the press release and articles on Valdez in New Mexico newspapers have circulated, said the press release created more questions than it answered.
He said he wants audit-related documents which the Board has kept confidential to be properly redacted and released for the sake of transparency.
“It comes to trust,” he said. “If they can’t be honest with us on this issue, how can I trust them on other issues?”