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Commissioners of two counties discuss DA concerns

by Larry Patrick
WALSENBURG- A work session was held on Monday when the Huerfano County and Las Animas County Commissioners discussed their concerns about District Attorney Frank Ruybalid. The Huerfano County Commissioners say they have not seen an audit of his books and are concerned that his budget for 2011 does not cover the expenses that he shows. By Colorado law, budgets must be balanced. If budgets are overspent, there can be malfeasance charges or accusations. Las Animas County commissioners say they saw figures from 2009 but not from 2010.
Of greatest concern to the county commissioners of the two counties is

who controls the DA’s office. Commissioners only control his budget and by law have to reasonably fund his office. But state law is vague on who controls the DA offices in the state. According to the understanding of the various commissioners, the DA’s office is not controlled by the counties or the state. The Colorado Attorney General’s office says they don’t handle DA problems and thinks the governor’s office does.
At issue are concerns that Ruybalid may have erroneous deductions in a retirement account. Is he sharing in matching funds from his personal account or having it taken out of his budget? The DA’s office is also showing a $13,000 shortfall for 201 which creates concern about the accuracy of the DA’s accounting.
Getting information from Ruybalid on such matters has apparently not been easy. As an elected official, Ruybalid runs his office and finances as he sees fit although he is supposed to stay within his budget. Apparently when he held office prior to this term, his office also ran into financial difficulties. At that time the Las Animas County commissioners paid debts that they weren’t obligated to pay because they didn’t want to leave workers or local businesses losing money.
Both counties provide money to the DA’s office each year, and the DA spends it as he feels necessary. The money is pooled into one account and neither county gets a set dollar amount of services.
It was decided that the commissioners would bring the matter up in their regular meetings this week and write a joint letter requesting that Ruybalid provide them with a balanced budget and tell them what the financial status of his office was as of Dec. 31, 2010. If the DA does not provide the information, then each county will check with the county attorney to see what their options are. They will also send the letter to the governor’s office so that he can be aware of the concerns.
Commissioner Roger Cain says Ruybalid has ignored requests for information before. Huerfano County Administrator John Galusha says he has been trying for years to get information from Ruybalid.
The ultimate goal is to have a DA’s office which can function and to have proper accounting of funds. When Lee Hawke was DA, he apparently left a $40,000 surplus while Ruybalid left a deficit in his first term (prior to Hawke) and now shows a deficit.
The state statutes are also vague on prosecuting a DA, if necessary. It states that elected officials who have concerns with malfeasance of other elected officials have an obligation to contact the DA for action. It shows no provisions for handling concerns of malfeasance in the DA’s office.
Both commissioner groups hope that Ruybalid will contact them and discuss their concerns and get things worked out. If not, then they hope the governor’s office can do it for them. What legal recourse the commissioners have is still not known, but they will look into that if they can’t get the answers they need. They want a response from Ruybalid by the end of this month.
The Huerfano World Journal was able to contact Ruybalid on Tuesday morning and he was totally flabbergasted about the concerns. He told this reporter that he is unaware of any calls or e-mails from any of the commissioners or John Galusha not being returned. He said he met with the commissioners in December when he was told his budget was being cut by a total of $32,000 from the combined counties. He said he spent more than his budget in 2010 but had a carryover of funds from 2009. Because of the cutback in funding for his office, he wanted to cut back the hours of one attorney who balked and decided to quit. He has other employees and attorneys taking one day off a month to save money. His office is down to three attorneys.
Ruybalid also says he has had deductions from his paycheck to go into PERA, which is a government retirement program. He said none of the money is coming from his budget for the retirement deductions.
The DA is concerned that no matter what he tells them, it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Ruybalid said he provided a 200 page report to the Las Animas County Commissioners awhile back in hopes it might increase his funding and when he asked about it, the county commissioner, Ken Torres, said he hadn’t gotten around to looking at it.
Ruybalid says that every single year the DA’s office has a CPA audit the books. He says he has always passed the audit and the reconcilation report has to be provided and accounted for. He says he has never had a problem brought to his attention.
The DA was unaware that the commissioners from the two counties were getting together to discuss concerns about his office. He told the World Journal that he would call Huerfano County Administrator John Galusha to find out when they have contacted him that he hasn’t responded. He says he is not trying to avoid anyone and isn’t aware of communication problems with county commissioners or administrators until the World Journal phone call.

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