By Ben DeGrow | Special to Colorado Watchdog
Last week I published a post highlighting the Colorado Media Trackers story of retired government employee and University of Colorado Regent Irene Griego, who also works part time as a Jefferson County school administrator.
Not all sources were responsive regarding her taxpayer-funded compensation package, so the article pieced together limited information to report that she earns as much as $220,000 a year in combined salary and pension.
The estimate now appears too high, but greater problems underlying the story still remain.
Officials from Jefferson County Public Schools have challenged certain information presented in the Media Trackers story, including information I quoted in my original post — later removed from Watchdog.org.
At this point, Media Trackers has not issued a correction or clarification of its original story. But I have communicated with Media Trackers representatives and Jeffco officials to dig a little deeper.
Particular to information I quoted in my original post, Jeffco officials refute the notion that Griego earned $93,100 as part-time director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Jeffco, instead, reports that in 2011-12, she earned $24,050 in that position and an additional $31,112.78 in a temporary, full-time capacity replacing another administrator on leave.
No source documentation was included in Jeffco’s “factual response,” though there is no clear reason to doubt the reported earnings. Also, Aaron Gardner from Media Trackers says the school district has rebuffed his group’s follow-up request for documents related to Griego’s contract, which could add more context to the dispute.
The $93,100 figure initially reported by Media Trackers was obtained from public budget documents. The amount is listed as the line-item salary for director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion for budget years 2011-12 and 2012-13.
The district has no immediate plans to replace Griego with a full-time director, said superintendent Cindy Stevenson. To the extent this office or any other office at Jeffco spends below budget, they are to be commended.
At the end of the day, however, the newly reported information does not fully assuage concerns about excessive government sector compensation packages. Jeffco’s “factual response” to the Media Trackers’ estimates of the retiree’s taxpayer-funded pension benefits interestingly states:
Dr. Griego’s retirement income is a private matter between her and PERA (Public Employees’ Retirement Association) and is not a matter of public record.
Of course, Jeffco doesn’t have access to her PERA earnings. PERA is a legally guarded black hole of information. No eyes are allowed on the most underfunded state pension plan in the nation — requiring contributions to increase to 53.9 percent of payroll to achieve full funding. Just ask state treasurer Walker Stapleton, also a PERA board member, who has had to sue to gain access to critical financial figures.
PERA has become an issue in the Jeffco 3A and 3B tax increase election before local voters this fall, as critics have noted a substantial portion of the additional operating revenue raised would have to cover rising retirement fund contributions.
Where have the district and its employee unions been when it comes to basic PERA reform bills that would give local flexibility? Anywhere from completely silent to actively opposed. Nor does Jeffco’s “factual response” touch on another point I raised in the now defunct post:
One could ask if continuing to give teachers union officials 275 free classroom leave days a year to do whatever union business they want on the public dime demonstrates a sensible priority that respects the concerns of local taxpayers, including cash-strapped small businesses (and their customers) that will feel the biggest brunt of (Jeffco’s tax increase) proposals.
A little more accountability and transparency shouldn’t be so hard to come by, especially when more is being asked of taxpayers again.