Internal documents show Director Ellen Golombek was on the three-person selection panel that awarded Liza Eilers a $142,000 consulting contract.
Golombek acknowledged a 20-year-long friendship with Eilers during an interview with 9Wants to Know.
Eilers does not have any direct involvement in solving the persistent problem of clogged phone lines.
"I would consider her a friend," Golombek said. "Most of my friends that I have come out of my work relationships and I meet most of my friends at work."
Golombek also acknowledged she hired Eilers in the past when she worked at the Service Employees International Union and Colorado AFL-CIO prior to her appointment to the Department of Labor.
"She did similar work for me a those organizations. Leadership team building and organizational development," Golombek said.
Golombek insists her friendship and past work history with Eilers did not influence her decision to award the contract. Three other companies bid for the job.
9Wants to Know: "So is it fair to say she [Eilers] had a pretty good advantage with you when she submitted this bid for this contract?"
Golombeck: "No, I don't think that's fair to say. I believe that I looked at all of the other proposals that met minimum requirements independently."
9Wants to Know: "Do you think our viewers will find that answer acceptable?"
Golombek: "I certainly hope they will. I've been honest and transparent in everything I've done at this agency."
9Wants to Know attempted to interview Eilers, but she did not respond to our request for a comment.
Consultant's duties and numerous meetings
Eilers describes herself as a "professional trainer and coach." Her contract says she is responsible for coming up with the agency's strategic plan and management reorganization.
Security key access logs reviewed by 9Wants to Know show Eilers showed up to the department for only two days during her first month on the job. Her contract shows Eilers collected $11,000 that first month.
Eilers, per the terms of her contract, is also provided a desk at the department.
"A great deal of Liza's work was actually done over the phone, interviewing key members of the staff, so it did not require her to be in the office," Golombek said.
A review of schedules by senior staff within the department shows much time spent in meetings organized by Eilers to talk about morale-boosting methods and topics like accountability, team values, and respect.
9Wants to Know counted 19 days of meetings attended by supervisors, with more than 1,000 combined man hours spent at such meetings since the summer.
Documents also show 14 members of the senior management team spent two days at a retreat in Breckenridge in July. Eilers also organized the retreat.
Golombek insists the meetings are improving morale within the department and are not taking up valuable time.
"I think the culture of this organization has changed. It's actually very exciting. People are more engaged," Golombek said. "Change is hard. Culture change is particularly hard. We are holding people accountable. We are doing the best we can to provide the best customer service."
When asked if the contract is helping the unemployed who are stuck on the phone, Golombek said the contract is a "department wide" contract and not specifically for the unemployment insurance program.
9Wants to Know: "Do you think the people who are trying to reach your department will see a value in this contract?"
Golombek: "I do believe that the people who are trying to reach the department will ultimately see a value to this contract. They won't see it today, they won't see it tomorrow."
Stuck on the phone
While senior managers have spent much time attending the consultant's meetings, the problem of clogged phone lines for the unemployed continues to persist without any clear relief.
9NEWS has received countless emails from viewers who say reaching an actual person over the phone is often impossible and frustrating. Two of our viewers are William Given and Dawn Swadley. Both have been unemployed for months, and both had delays in their payments. They were trying to call and figure out why.
"I'm at a point right now where I never expect an answer right away," Given said. "It's unbelievably frustrating."
Swadley says she has called the department hundreds of times without getting an answer.
"It says a lot of what's going on behind the scenes, and that doesn't speak to kindly to that," Swadley said.
Golombek says the department just hired nearly 40 people to help answer phones for the unemployed, but those new workers still need weeks of training.
Golombek also says 70 percent of the questions that people ask when they do call into the department can be answered on the agency's website: http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/CDLE-Main/CDLE/1240336821467.
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