EAGLE-Net needs to open up its nest

Apparently it’s easy to forget that taking money from the federal government – or any government – means you’re taking money from American taxpayers: you, me, your neighbor. It’s our money and therefore we have a right to know how it’s being spent, whether it’s being spent properly, and whether that spending is achieving its stated public goal.

But EAGLE-Net, the nonprofit alliance formed with federal funds during the Great Recession and charged with building a broadband network for underserved and rural Colorado communities, clearly has forgotten the public nature of its mission and its money.

When Colorado auditors and Colorado legislators have asked EAGLE-Net for numerous financial records to determine whether the agency is complying with its federal mandate and spending public funds properly, EAGLE-Net has taken the “just say no” approach.

In the latest slap in the face to local elected officials, EAGLE-Net has said it doesn’t believe the financial records lawmakers have requested can be provided without violating its own fiduciary obligations.

Excuse me? We’re not talking about a receipt for a $150 lunch bill at a fancy restaurant. We’re talking about vouchers and invoices for $100.6 million in construction and equipment spending and the well-being of several Colorado communities that still lack the high-speed Internet access they were promised in 2010.

Maybe the agency is getting bad legal and public-relations advice. How else to explain why EAGLE-Net, a young entity whose board includes public school officials among others, has consistently circled the wagons in the face of criticism instead of providing the information we all have a right to examine.

It’s possible that EAGLE-Net has done what it says it is charged with doing, albeit a little late and at a high cost. But it’s hard to tell, and the agency’s behavior does nothing but increase public suspicion about its actions.

Early on, when Colorado Congressman Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, and some of his GOP congressional colleagues began hounding EAGLE-Net over its high spending and low output, it looked as if the criticism was hyperbole driven by a partisan, political witch hunt.

But the longer EAGLE-Net’s stonewalling continues, and the more Democrats get involved, including the chairwoman of the state’s audit committee Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, the less likely it becomes a witch hunt and the more likely there is legitimate bipartisan concern over possible wrongdoing at the agency.

Game’s up, EAGLE-Net. Hire a new PR firm and a new attorney and hand over all of your financials. You’re biting the hand that’s feeding you: American taxpayers.

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