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Commissioners receive terse response from D.A.

by Larry Patrick
TRINIDAD- Huerfano & Las Animas County District Attorney Frank Ruybalid, responded to a joint letter from the Huerfano & Las Animas County Commissioners last week. The commissioners were concerned about his office budget and deposits into his retirement account.
Ruybalid said he would comply in good faith with the requests of the commissioners. He said that when all sides met last Dec. 16, he did not present a proposed budget for 2011 because it was not requested at the time. Ruybalid stated that the document he presented to the commissioners at that time was not intended to be a complete budget plan. Also he pointed out that since he had not been informed that his budget was going to be cut by $32,000 until the Dec. 16 meeting, there was no way of incorporating a complete budget at that time.
Issue was taken by Ruybalid about the joint commissioner’s meeting on Feb. 14. According to Ruybalid, the commissioners had not communicated to him until Dec. 16 that his budget would be cut, and no complaint had been made to him until the letter was sent to his office requesting a corrected 2011 budget. Ruybalid was upset by comments from Huerfano County Commissioner Roger Cain and Administrator John Galusha that getting information from Ruybalid has not been easy in the past. He asked what efforts had been made to contact him when he has not responded?
Ruybalid also took issue with the fact that he was not invited to the Feb. 14 meeting or asked to respond to any of their concerns prior to the meeting. According to Ruybalid, he had incidental contact with commissioners from both counties three days prior to what he termed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and no one said anything to him about needing to see his 2011 budget or holding a meeting to discuss his office finances.
Ruybalid said he saw Huerfano County Commissioner Art Bobian at the Las Animas County Democratic Central Committee on Feb. 12 and received a call from Las Animas County Commissioner Bill Cordova the morning of Feb. 14 without any mention of a meeting or of concerns about his office. He said his office is simply up a flight of stairs and down the hall from the Las Animas County Commissioners, yet no one made contact with him. Ruybalid said in his letter to the commissioners, “that is not a good way to develop trust or unity among public officials.” “I have no hesitation in providing you what you want to see, solely to assure you I have nothing to hide or be embarrassed about.”
The D.A. stated that he has received a barrage of criticism about functions and decisions that are exclusively within his control. He cited criticism levied by past commissioners about his refusal to prosecute their critics for annoying but non-criminal behavior, his retention of employees whose sexual orientation was morally offensive to them, and the allocation of staff between the two counties. Ruybalid said he would resist any efforts to turn their control of his annual budget into an opportunity to override his legal and managerial decisions. The D.A. asserted that he has professional independence.
He also said he is not required to provide commissioners a complete financial abstract of the D.A.’s office, only an annual balanced budget. Ruybalid said District Attorney Offices are required to provide financial data to the state auditor. According to Ruybalid, the county commissioners have no legal authority to conduct an audit, and D.A.s are omitted from having to make financial records available to county commissioners. Ruybalid did say he would conduct his 2010 audit later this year and he has had no problems passing past annual audits of his office.
He also stated that when Las Animas County has “helped” the DA’s office with its accounting, it has resulted in embarrassing lawsuits costing the DA’s Office and that county tens of thousands of dollars. The DA said he had been pressured by former members of the Las Animas County Commissioners on legal issues far beyond the scope of their authority.
Ruybalid also addressed concerns about how he has handled contributions to his PERA & retirement account in his response. He asserted that contributions are being done correctly and not coming out of his budget but out of his paycheck.
The DA felt he could have a balanced budget to the two county groups by Friday, March 4. The budget was received on Tuesday March 8, and the commissioners are now studying it.
Ruybalid urged the county commissioners to give him a call or come to his office at any time in the future when they have concerns instead of holding meetings about him that he has not been made aware of or about concerns that he hasn’t been asked to defend.