Merida Money Mismanagement Makes News

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.

96 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

    (duck and cover)

  2. MADCO says:

    We found that out last winter when some group or other educated all us skeptical CoPolsters on how community organizing doesn’t need money.  No money for photocopies. No money for servers. No money for web design. No money for food. No money even for pens and paper.

    So , your pizza punch line is way out of line.

    As for the rest- c’mon now. How is a devoted public servant supposed to get by on $5,000 a year?  I mean that’s less than $100/wk.  No way to eat fast food and hit the neighborhood coffee shops on that.  And don’t go suggesting actual paying employment – that’s just nuts.

  3. RedGreenRedGreen says:

    that you didn’t get taxpayers to foot the bill for a $200 room service charge at the Broadmoor educating the children. Admit it.

  4. catpuzzle says:

    …paid for by Denver taxpayers.

    Where do I sign up for that?

    I looked at the credit card report and it shows a recurring charge for 14.95 on the 20th of every month to Audible. According to http://www.Audible.com, that’s the cost of a “gold” subscription.

    Go for the gold, baby!

  5. ProgressiveCowgirlProgressiveCowgirl says:

    (Not true. It was a solid gold pizza.)

    • pay your taxes! says:

      that yesterday’s drive-by was just an attempt to make herself look good before the shit hit the fan? She was interviewed for the article, so she had to know it was going to be going online very soon.

      It seems far too coincidental that she just happened to be here to congratulate herself on a job well done mere hours before Ed News broke the story.

      Not saying it’s your fault, but it’s gotta make you feel like she was just using your desire to give elected officials the platform to communicate to do a little preemptive damage control.

      • ProgressiveCowgirlProgressiveCowgirl says:

        It would make perfect sense (and piss me off) but you’re assuming that she has the capacity to strategize ahead in that case, and if she were that clever she’d probably have passed on the ridiculous statement that she does not intend to pay back any of the overspending. That messaging is so idiotic that I have to assume she really is just incredibly tone deaf and thinks this is no big deal and is proceeding with business as usual — or she just doesn’t want her seat anymore.  

      • RedGreenRedGreen says:

        next year’s credit card statements will include a $150 bill for “strategic messaging consulting” on or about Aug. 30?

      • Middle of the Road says:

        think that way and that’s something I like about her–that it genuinely comes as a bit of a shock to her that fiscally irresponsible hypocrites do plan ahead for fall out (since this story has clearly been in the works for awhile, from the amount of people that were interviewed).

        Has it occurred to anyone that it is not a coincidence that Merida hasn’t posted a single comment or diary here since July 2010, until yesterday’s diary?

        For those of us that have been following Merida’s financial mismanagement over the years, it isn’t a surprise. It isn’t a surprise that her credibility was questioned in her diary yesterday.

        What was surprising was the self righteous responses deriding legitimate questions involving Merida’s involvement with an organization that she touts founding, yet is not supposed to be responsible or accountable to answering questions about it. An organization that if successful, would have cost DPS taxpayers over $100,000.00 for a special election to recall the President of the Board in order to take control of it.

        Hopefully, the self righteous indignation at asking Merida why it’s okay to spend nearly $13K of taxpayer money will be dialed back just a notch, unless the average voter doesn’t mind buying Merida breakfast, lunch and dinner on their dime.  And doesn’t mind that DPS taxpayers will now foot a $7,673.00 bill for it.  

        • ProgressiveCowgirlProgressiveCowgirl says:

          I just think that if an elected or major candidate is here in person, it makes sense to give them the soapbox. We have fewer of them than we used to and that’s kind of a bummer :(

          And yes I am a bit naive that way, but I still just don’t think she’s that smart… I have never been a Merida fan since she was involved with Defense Denver and they are a load of bunk, it just rankles with me when people ask silly questions like “did you ever apologize to someone who’s not in or related to your diary for something that happened a long time ago.” It seems like bullying to me and I don’t like that politicians are seen as subhumans who are acceptable targets for bullying. But I see the other side of it too to an extent — if it legitimately could change someone’s vote, they should ask even an impertinent question — but the shills yesterday were out in force and don’t seem to me like people who are open to changing their minds at all.

          Asking her about this is not impertinent or bullying; it’s news NOW and is very much the constituents’ business. I also wonder why the School Board does not use an automated expenditure tracking system and require members to submit expense reports online with mandated reasons for each expenditure. My corporate card uploads any charges into a tracking system that is extremely meticulous.

        • RedGreenRedGreen says:

          Don’t forget coffee, snacks and audio books. It’s tough to get by on just three taxpayer-funded meals a day, especially when you have to drive to Lakewood for some of them.

      • BlueCat says:

        close on the heels of….Oh, wait. I don’t live or vote in Denver and don’t have a kid in Denver schools so I’d better not type another  

  6. dwyer says:

    She needs to return to this blog and explain.  It is not okay to spend that amount of money and assume that she does not

    have to document the expenses or explain.

    She is an intelligent woman, but this is her second big mistake.  The first was working for Romanoff and not disclosing the salary.  

    She should be smart enough to know that an minority woman (or man) who is going to be independent has to be absolutely above board….Caesar’s wife and all of that.

    She should fire whoever gave her this advice, if they did it was a set-up.  If it wasn’t, then those of us who would like to support her….and almost were on the verge of it, feel betrayed….

  7. Say Hey Kid says:

    I hope Arturo Jimenez does the right and smart thing and pays the money back.

    Southwest Denver sure gets the flakes.  First Michelle Moss and now Andrea Merida.  I cannot think of two worse elected officials in Denver.  

  8. JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

    How many of these meetings involved her pro bono work for DeFENSE Denver?

    Obvious question #2:

    What about Progressive Juice, her political consulting firm?

    Obvious question #3:

    What does it take to force someone to resign anymore? Most places of business I know fire you when you run up the company card thousands over the limit.

  9. Ralphie says:

    Without looking into whose diaries she’s promoting, and as long as David Thi agrees with her…

    …everything is good, right?

  10. davebarnesdavebarnes says:

    $5K id way too low.

    School board members should be paid a salary of at least $100K AND they should have an expense account of at least $12K.

    • UglyAmericanUglyAmerican says:

      The reality is they’re not compensated that way. So if you can’t afford to serve, don’t. True for any kind of board service.

      • ColoMod says:

        That’s extremely weak.

        Not that I disagree on principle (although I think 100k a year is rather steep when you consider state legislators only get 30k).

        But come on . You know what you’re getting in to when you run. You know the compensation. You know the rewards, and the sacrifices.

        And if you don’t, you haven’t done your due diligence in finding out what the hell it is that is expected of you. And you don’t deserve the seat (rewards and responsibilities included).

    • cdsmith says:

      It’s not so much that she spent $12,000 on expenses… it’s the fact that she’s basically listing every single meal she eats outside of her home as a “community meeting” and billing it to the school.  Not to mention she eats out even more than I do, and that’s saying a lot!

      I’m sure she had a really great community meeting at McDonalds.  I wonder if it was more or less productive than the one at Burger King a few days later.

    • nancycronk says:

      Perhaps you are familiar with corporate America, not community-service America. A number of community special district boards pay their board members $75 or $100 per month. Some more. Some give zero compensation. Few have expense accounts.

      I am staying out of this argument about Merida, but I thought you should know that. Corporate America is full of lavish compensations; public, non-profit and quasi-governmental agencies — not so much.  

      • ProgressiveCowgirlProgressiveCowgirl says:

        Not 6 figures, but enough to get by — many make it a full time job and are not compensated. I think the legislature needs a raise, too. There are good investments in the world and compensating our leaders enough that we can have some who aren’t either crooked or independently wealthy would be a good one. Never gonna happen in a down economy, though, no matter how much it would help to attract candidates who are pro-middle class.

        • MADCO says:

          someone treats it as one.

          I’ve been on boards some public some corporate.

          It was nice to be paid and have board meetings in w locations and include meals and stuff for the meeting.  

          But that’s not what public service is about – and whether or not it should be is a different question.  The Board is not the staff. The Board are not employees.

          In my experience tasks frequently fill the time available, with no noticeable improvement in output just because there is more time.  It’s not a ft job.  

          • dwyer says:

            I think this and the RTD board are the only unpaid elected

            positions in the state. Dan Willis, Am I correct?

            The whole gd business pisses me off…evidently the president, Nate Easley, signed off on all her submitted expenses.  What the hell is with that???

            I have said before, I would never put a child anywhere near DPS.  It is a political culture, doesn’t have a damm thing to do with educating children….

          • Colorado PolsColorado Pols says:

            Whether or not this should be a paid position, or if school board members should receive a larger stipend, is completely irrelevant to this discussion. When former House Minority Leader Joe Stengel billed taxpayers for ridiculous amounts of time, including time spent on vacation in Hawaii, he tried to make a similar excuse. This is about the law and the rules as they exist now.

            • ProgressiveCowgirlProgressiveCowgirl says:

              It was late and I left it out. Current conduct should be judged on current rules, but we should think about what unpaid positions that consume a significant amount of time attract. I’m not a fan of the assumption that we’ll get service-minded people by not paying them.  

              • MADCO says:

                It’s that most Boards are not recruited with pay and perks.

                Perhaps board members would be less worried about professional development if they were already qualified for the gig before they got it.

                Now, in the case of pubic elections, it’s tricky. Because you could have a good candidate, who campaigns well, but is unqualified.  Hell, you could have a candidate who who just has the right letter after their name but is unqualified.

                The idea is that we should trust the voters not to elect unqualified candidates (too often) but when we do, there are rules that should be followed. ANd if the office holder doesn’t understand the rules, they should be explained and corrected.

                If it was up to me – I wouldn’t support making the school board position either full time nor a paid professional gig. That’s what the superintendent’s office is for.

                And when  the new board doesn’t like the superintendent the old board hired, or the board minority doesn’t like the superintendent the majority hired, you work within the rules to make change.  It’s hard, always needs more time than you have,  and is often thankless.  I already said hard, right?

                Tough.

                That’s the way it is and until someone devises a better form of gov’t (benevolent robot overlords) that’s the way it should be no matter how hard it is.

            • dwyer says:

              100+

              Okay, so it a “suck up,” but you are really right.

            • Middle of the Road says:

              according to Merida, it’s all Nate Easley’s fault. I hear he’s on the hook for global warming, the housing foreclosure disaster and the financial crisis in Europe, too.  

  11. raymond1 says:

    … as a comment to Merida’s identical post there, which of course drew only two comments (both predictably fawning) on Everyone’s Favorite Dead Site. Merida really gets more vile with each bit of news about her.

    • Diogenesdemar says:

      be greatful for your appreciably bumping her site’s August traffic.

    • sxp151 says:

      Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re so dumb that you can’t spell “Thanks.” Is it because you’re ungrateful? Or illiterate?

      “Thx,” raymond1 demonstrating how NOT to spell “Thanks,” it reminds me of Karl Rove.

      • raymond1 says:

        So c’mon (another abbreviation, see?), awaiting a typo or an abbreviation for me, just so you could defend Merida’s lack of basic grammar, is cheap and stupid.

        I agree with 99% of what you write (except when you’re channeling Colbert in playing conservative), and I get that you see Merida as being on the right side of the charter and union issues — but she’s not someone to go out on a limb defending.

        • sxp151 says:

          or that everything she does is worth defending. People criticize her a lot. Some of the criticisms I agree with. Some I disagree with, but I can see the merit of the criticism. But what you’re doing is just silly. As I said before, it’s as if you had no problem with Bush’s policies except that he once fucked up a sentence and THAT’S why you think he should have been impeached. It trivializes any genuine disagreement people might have. If she were incapable of writing intelligently, that would be another story, but you’re picking out ONE MISTAKE in dozens of posts and articles and beating it to death.

          Let me put it this way: do you think Obama really believes there are 57 states? Do you think it’s petty when people bring that up instead of a more substantive criticism? What do you think when people cite that mistake as evidence that he’s a moron and didn’t deserve to go to Harvard? You sound worse here because at least that’s an obsession about the President, not some minor local official.

          I’m not defending Merida because I agree with her, I just think you’re being juvenile and it’s beneath you. Sometimes I just like defending Enemies of the Blog.

  12. Aaron says:

    to get ahold of her Barnes and Noble receipts?

    I would love to find out what her monthly “education research” purchases were for.

    • ProgressiveCowgirlProgressiveCowgirl says:

      If she couldn’t even be bothered to track her spending, what makes you think the receipts aren’t in a landfill?

    • Aaron Silverstein says:

      Hi, other Aaron!

      I am friends with Andrea, and I don’t want her to think that you are me, and that I am participating in the witch hunt.

      I used to post at ColoradoPols all the time, and was kind of known for my blogging. It has always been a small worry of mine that your account would be mistaken for mine, but such is life.

      This time, however, I wanted to just make that extra clear.  

      • ProgressiveCowgirlProgressiveCowgirl says:

        I have a lot of respect for you and wonder why you see this as a “witch hunt.” Seems cut and dried to me, but I have a lot to learn, as our neighborhood grouch likes to remind me.

      • Dabee47 says:

        God forbid one of her friends call her out for…ya know…breaking the painfully obvious rules she agreed to when she got elected to this dog and pony show.

        No, no, no…her friends must remain a united front against this…uh…”witch hunt.”

        Yeah…that’s the ticket!

        • MADCO says:

          When she was elected she learned and followed some prtty arcane and intricate laws and rules. Didn’t she get sworn in “early” in the day so she would be the seated board member for the meeting? Pretty tricky rules to pull that off.

          But now, her defense is she didn’t understand and someone else signed off on it and  so it’s not really fair to ask or make her pay it back.

          Meanwhile – here’s a fix: debt cards with a $5000 limit. OR a pre-paoid credit card with a $5000 limit.

          No cost, no fuss no muss.  Oh and receipts are turned in monthly, emails are preserved as official records during tenure in office.

          • ThillyWabbit says:

            Board member should use their personal money for expenses and submit receipts for reimbursement. If they don’t have a lot of personal money, they can file for reimbursement once a week, or once a day.

            That’s how it’s worked at every job I’ve ever had in 25 years but one, whether I was a manager or a peon.  Even the one job where I had a corporate card I had to submit corresponding receipts, and if those receipts were not complete I owed the difference out of my personal money.

            Andrea Merida is only an extreme abuser of a system that obviously has no real oversight. The fact that her arch-enemies also overspent (by far lower amounts) demonstrates that the process is hjГёrked. The silver lining of Merida’s obvious crookedness is that the system that was so easy for her to abuse might be made more accountable.

      • pay your taxes! says:

        that was executed against Michael Bennet last year?

        Face it, if it was one of the DPS majority or the superintendent who had bilked the taxpayers out of thousands of dollars to subsidize their cost of burger enthusiasm “community outreach”, the same people who were salivating at every possible attack they could muster on Bennet would be posting much worse.

  13. sloanslake says:

    last time I checked ignorance of the law (or ignorance of established written rules) wasn’t an excuse.

    It is written that DPS Board members have a $5,000K annual expense allowance and both the board president and this woman went over it. The best part (worst really) is that the president authorized these expenses.

    If I were ya’ll, I’d start distancing myself from these two board members. This story ain’t over yet…the TV News people are now starting to dig into the expense reports…guaranteed this will be career ending for one or both of them…

  14. ClubTwitty says:

    Why don’t you use subjects?  Me, I use the left column to see new comments, and thus skip most of yours, having no clue if it is one worth my time.

Leave a Reply

Comment from your Facebook account


You may comment with your Colorado Pols account above (click here to register), or via Facebook below.