Routt County treasurer defends legal spending
April 10, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn is defending her use of taxpayer money to have an outside lawyer in Denver help the treasurer respond to allegations she was improperly working on her state treasurer’s campaign from her office.
The spending, which totaled $945 and included having a law firm review and help write responses to the news coverage about two calls Horn made to her political campaign strategists from her county office, is drawing scrutiny from Routt County commissioners.
Horn’s fellow elected officials are questioning whether taxpayers should have to foot the bill for such legal advice.
After consulting with the Denver-based law firm back in January, Horn denied that the calls she made to Magellan Strategies, the campaign consultants, were related to her campaign for state treasurer. She also labeled the coverage about the phone calls a “political hatchet job.”
Some commissioners are concerned about county taxpayers having to pay the bill for legal advice they think might not be related to Horn’s official duties as county treasurer.
“I don’t know how you read it any other way except she’s using taxpayer dollars for a campaign,” County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski said last week about some of the line items in an invoice for outside legal counsel Horn submitted to the county.
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Commissioner Tim Corrigan also questioned why taxpayers should be paying for Horn to consult with an attorney about the news coverage.
“I don’t see how it was appropriate to engage legal help at the taxpayers’ expense to answer questions from the newspaper regarding potential electioneering activity in the treasurer’s office,” he said. “I think those questions can be answered without consulting an attorney.”
Horn did not respond to a Friday phone call from Steamboat Pilot & Today to discuss the legal spending.
Commissioners sought to talk with Horn about the legal bill Tuesday, but the meeting was postponed due to a scheduling conflict.
In an email to County Manager Tom Sullivan on Tuesday, Horn said she didn’t see any reason to meet with the county commissioners regarding the legal bill. She said she felt the spending was appropriate.
“Consulting counsel to address a bogus press report that a call made in my official capacity as Treasurer was campaign-related was entirely appropriate,” she wrote to Sullivan. “If the commissioners have questions as to why, please feel free to email specific questions to me.”
In January, Horn started paying the law firm Klenda Gessler and Blue LLC $350 per hour to help her respond to the Steamboat Today stories about phone records that showed Horn had called Magellan Strategies from her county office line.
Horn initially said she couldn’t recall the nature of the first phone call, which was made about three weeks before Horn announced her state treasurer’s campaign and started paying Magellan as a campaign consultant.
But after consulting with the law firm and facing questions about a second call she made to Magellan during her campaign in December, Horn said she remembered that she made the calls to book Magellan for a summer conference of county treasurers.
Magellan has not returned multiple phone messages from Steamboat Pilot& Today seeking to discuss the nature of the calls.
The county commissioners postponed the discussion they hoped to have with Horn about the legal spending on Tuesday.
The agenda item was tabled because Horn said Sullivan had mistakenly told her in an initial email about the meeting that it was going to be scheduled for April 17.
She added she had a scheduling conflict this week.
Sullivan noted Horn also received a notice of the agenda item with the correct April 10 date around the same time as his email.
The commissioners agreed to postpone the discussion until Tuesday because of the scheduling conflict.