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The Holly Williams story


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The title of this column sounds just like a Lifetime original, and in many ways the drama does resemble a made-for-TV movie complete with nepotism, power plays and backstabbing.

In a news story on page 17 this week, reporter Terje Langeland chronicles a recent audit of the El Paso County public trustee's office, headed by Holly Williams. The audit is not good; among other things it indicates that under Williams' watch, the office has been an open invitation for embezzlement and theft of funds.

Williams insists that steps have been taken to correct the problems, but when you consider all of the players in the drama, the problems run far deeper than an office audit.

As the public trustee, Williams oversees a 16-person office that processes nearly $2 million in fees related to foreclosures and property purchased in El Paso County.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens appointed Williams, a Republican operative, close supporter and former piano teacher who has no formal accounting training, to the $48,500 job in 1999.

Williams is married to attorney Wayne Williams, a past chairman of the local Republican Party who, like his wife, co-chaired the Owens for governor re-election efforts last year.

Last November Williams was elected to the five-member Board of County Commissioners. The year before that, his wife hired him to do about $1,000 worth of legal work for the trustee's office.

The county currently has no ethics policy that would prohibit such conflicts of interest, so technically Holly Williams broke no rules by paying public money to her husband. But "technically" hasn't always cut it when it comes to the public's trust. In the past, our government leaders have been positively conservative over the notion that even a whiff of a perception of a conflict was enough to make them steer clear. You don't hire your husband; you don't hire your pals. Apparently those days are gone.

As trustee, Holly Williams has also hired local attorney Bob Gardner to do legal work for the public trustee's office. The two --Williams and Gardner -- are also currently co-chairing the political campaign to get Republican Dan May elected as El Paso County's new district attorney next year.

This is where it gets interesting. Gardner, it should be noted, was also the chairman of the local Republican Party from 1995 to 1997. In fact, he used to consider the Williams' camp enemy territory. While Gardner was in charge, Wayne Williams insinuated that Gardner and Gardner's good friend Sarah Jack -- then the party's treasurer -- were skimming the books. Gardner told Williams if he didn't like the way things were being handled at local GOP headquarters, he should run for chairman himself. Gardner subsequently did not seek a second term, and was replaced -- and not too happily -- by his then-foe Williams.

But apparently everyone has kissed and made up.

And speaking of Jack, this Republican small-government activist is currently spearheading efforts to get voters to approve a county tax measure next month to benefit The Resource Exchange, which provides services to the developmentally disabled.

Which brings us to County Commissioner Jim Bensberg, also a Republican who, like Wayne Williams, was elected to the Board of County Commissioners last year.

A few months ago Williams blindsided Bensberg when he secretly secured support from the other three county commissioners to place Jack's tax proposal to benefit The Resource Exchange before the voters on this November's ballot. So, when Bensberg cast the sole vote against the proposal, he came off as a bit player, the evil villain who hates the developmentally disabled.

Bensberg was incensed. He also just happens to be the county commissioners' liaison to the public trustee's office, headed by Holly Williams, who, let's not forget, is the wife of the nemesis who outmaneuvered him.

Within days after Bensberg cast his anti-disabled vote, somehow -- we just can't fathom how -- the city's daily newspaper was alerted to an unflattering audit of the public trustee's office. On Aug. 31, the Gazette published a front-page story quoting Bensberg as saying the public trustee's office, run by Holly Williams, is clearly being mismanaged.

If all this insider wheeling and dealing leaves you feeling a bit queasy, that's just too bad. This is show business, folks. It's how the game is played, here in our very own "Holly"wood.



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