Secretary of State Scott Gessler Accused of Harassment, Retaliation by Ex-Office CFO
The former chief financial officer for the Colorado Secretary of State's Office is accusing Secretary Scott Gessler of harassing her, retaliating against her and eventually demoting her after she "began to push back on the financial mismanagement" she reportedly saw in the office. Heather Lizotte took issue with Gessler's use of the office's $5,000 discretionary fund and federal grant funds meant to improve state elections, according to a lengthy claim notice filed with the Colorado Attorney General's Office.
Mark Manger Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler.
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According to the notice, Lizotte began working for the secretary of state's office in 2003 and got excellent performance reviews for many years. The trouble started shortly after Gessler took office in 2010, the notice says. Gessler made headlines for wanting to moonlight at his previous law firm because, he claimed, the secretary of state's salary wasn't enough. Meanwhile, the notice says, Gessler didn't always provide receipts in connection with his use of the office's $5,000 discretionary fund; at the end of fiscal years 2011 and 2012, he also asked Lizotte to give him all of the money left in the fund.
Lizotte told Gessler's staff "that the casual practices being used were not appropriate," the notice says. In a November 2011 e-mail to two staffers, Lizotte wrote that all expenditures from the discretionary fund "should have supporting documentation (for example meal receipts etc.)" and that memos for "blanket expenditures" are not allowed. Lizotte's insistence on the rules, the notice says, caused "ongoing tension" between her and Gessler.
Heather Lizotte in a photo from her Facebook page.
Lizotte claims the tension grew worse after she testified before the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission and a Denver grand jury about Gessler's use of the discretionary fund, including paying for a trip to Florida to attend an election-law conference of the Republican National Lawyers Association and the Republican National Convention.
However, a transcript of Lizotte's testimony before the commission shows that she didn't question Gessler's request for the remaining discretionary fund money -- even though he didn't provide any receipts, just a memo requesting the funds.
"I didn't raise it with the Secretary because I look to him as an elected official," Lizotte said, according to the transcript. "It was a memo signed and dated by him. And he is representing that he incurred expenses on behalf of the office. And I look to him as an honest person. And so I went ahead and reimbursed him."
The Independent Ethics Commission found that Gessler's use of the fund violated ethics rules. A Denver District Court judge upheld that conclusion.
Although the grand jury found no probable cause that a crime had occurred, it criticized Gessler in its report, writing that his use of the funds was "not prudent."
Recently, the state ethics commission okayed an upcoming trip by Gessler to Las Vegas for this year's Republican National Lawyers Association election-law seminar. Gessler is a speaker, and the commission voted to allow him to accept the association's offer to pay for his travel and lodging costs for one night.
Continue for more on Lizotte's claims.