Mowle reapplies to be county’s public trustee

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Although El Paso County Public Trustee Tom Mowle recently submitted a letter of resignation, he has already reapplied for his position and maintains that he has been a good steward of public money.

All 10 of the state’s public trustees appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper stepped down last week after a Denver Post story questioned spending practices among six trustees, saying they might be using their jobs for personal or staff gain. Mowle was not named among the six.

One trustee retired, and the governor’s office declined to say how many have reapplied. The application deadline is July 25. Depending on how many applications the state receives, Hickenlooper expects to make appointments within a few weeks.

The trustees are still working until then.

Denver Post journalist David Migoya said he became interested in the trustees’ affairs after the Legislature started discussing possible bills increasing trustee accountability. One trustee said he would resign if he had to get his budget approved by the Legislature.

“That comment said to me that they didn’t want anyone looking at their budgets,” Migoya said. “So, I thought, OK — let’s take a look.”

His article raised questions about a trustee renting office space in a building he owns with a partnership, another who provides regular chair massages for employees and one who bought a company car for herself.

The governor’s staff asked the public trustees last week, after they resigned, to submit conflict-of-interest forms along with information about their building leases, employee benefits and how they decide where to print public notices.

Mowle said he revealed that he and his wife run a small business called Rampart Professional Services, which provides grant-writing services, editing and coaching for graduate students. He said the business is very small with revenue to date around $250.

“I wouldn’t say it was a conflict of interest,” Mowle said. “But they asked if we had any interest in any other businesses.”

Mowle says he does not have a company car, nor does he buy birthday cakes for employees with office money. When the office kitchen needs dish soap, he said he buys that with his own money.

“It’s public money,” he said. “The easiest place to draw the line is at zero.”

Mowle came to the trustee’s office from serving active duty in the Air Force. He retired as a major and was looking for a job; he knew systems and believed in efficiency. He had no political affiliation with Gov. Bill Ritter, who appointed him in 2008.

He’s a stickler for the law and when he sees banks sending letters to homeowners telling them to vacate on the day of a scheduled sale, he lets the bank management know they’re in the wrong. He rejects foreclosure filings that lack clarity or aren’t 100 percent complete.

He answers his own phone and takes time to talk with homeowners about their rights and to investors about the process.

“I hate to say I like the work,” Mowle said, “because I don’t always like the content of the work. But I like doing serious work and interfacing directly with people who don’t have anyone else to turn to.”

When Mowle started as trustee, he said the first thing he did was start paying office rent to El Paso County. Previously, the county did not charge the trustee rent, but Mowle says the law requires it.

The office processes about the same amount of work now as it did in 2007, before Mowle started, he said. But he has cut operating expenses from $222,269 in the second quarter of 2007 to $151,188 in the second quarter of this year. And the office has turned over about half of its revenue to the county since 2010.

“I brought down the cost of running the office,” Mowle said. “I think that’s the ultimate measure of — are you using public money properly?”

Mowle said he was the first to offer to step down. He believes the system is a good one and it works. If he is not reappointed, though, he said he will understand.

“I’ll just do something else,” he said. “The public has to trust us. No pun intended.”