Outgoing La Plata County Planning Director Jason Meininger improperly used a county credit card to make a nearly $4,000 unauthorized purchase for an electronic bike, drawing concern from county officials days before he announced his resignation, county records show.
Meininger, contacted Wednesday, said the purchase of the e-bike and subsequent concern from county staff had no influence on his decision to resign. He said that at the time he bought the e-bike, he believed he was following county protocol.
“Looking back at it, the existing policy is not clear,” Meininger said. “I thought I was ... operating in the best interest of the county.”
Meininger purchased the Super Commuter+ 7 e-bike in November from 2nd Avenue Sports in Durango for $3,791.
Because county offices are spread throughout Durango, Meininger said he thought the bike was a good purchase that would save the county money on gas and time, as well as allow employees some exercise.
According to documents obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act request, Meininger conducted a cost analysis, in which he determined that using an e-bike instead of vehicles would save the county from $2,194 to $2,332 a year.
“Even with conservative numbers, having a program ... that saves money and adds to health and reduces parking was worth pursuing,” he said.
But on Jan. 11, La Plata County Finance Director Diane Sorensen wrote a memo to interim County Manager Chuck Stevens that said the purchase of the bike on the county credit card may be considered an improper purchase.
La Plata County spokeswoman Megan Graham confirmed Thursday the purchase was improper and unauthorized.Sorensen wrote that all county credit card purchases must be properly authorized, have a valid purpose and that funds must be appropriated for the item.
“The bike is an unusual purchase for County operations, the purchase was not disclosed or transparent, and funds had not be (sic) appropriated for such purchase,” Sorensen wrote.
Per county policy, only items that cost more than $5,000 are required to go through the procurement bid process.
But Sorensen wrote that Meininger should have, at a minimum, consulted county staff before buying the bike, and should have come up with a plan for associated risks such as insurance issues, possible theft and maintaining and storing the bike.
On Jan. 24, Sorensen again wrote to Stevens, and asked about a plan for “disposal” of the bike. After that, there were no more emails included in the CORA request answering that, nor was there any other correspondences with Meininger.
Meininger submitted a resignation letter to county staff on Jan. 22. His last day will be March 1.
Meininger has worked at La Plata County’s planning department since 2008. He was named interim planning director in June 2017 after then-director Damian Peduto took a job in Eagle County. Meininger became permanent director in October 2017.
He told The Durango Herald previously and reiterated Wednesday that he is leaving the planning department to start his own business. He said he did not face any reprimands for the purchase of the bike and was not asked by county staff to resign.
Graham declined to comment on the specifics of Meininger’s resignation.
“The fact is Jason resigned, and beyond that, the county doesn’t talk in any more depth about personnel matters,” she said.
Asked if Meininger was asked to resign, Graham said: “It’s not something we’ll confirm or deny.”
Meininger’s purchase of the bike was not an act of bad intent, Graham said.
“There’s proper procedures for making a purchase, and this wasn’t necessarily in line with county purchasing procedures given it’s a capital-type asset,” she said. “More than anything ... there was a communication gap.”
The purchase was caught by the county’s Finance Department when reviewing spending documents.
“The county takes stewardship of taxpayer dollars very seriously, and that’s why we have such a rigorous oversight of spending,” Graham said. “We have a lot of safeguards in place, which is why this purchase got the attention of county administration.”
According to county policy, failure to comply with county purchasing guidelines “may result in disciplinary action, cancellation of ... card privileges, and possible termination of employment.”
Graham said the county intends to sell the e-bike.