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A tangled web of city strife

Pam Zubeck (Colorado Springs Independent)- This week City Councilor Helen Collins and her ally, anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce, filed an ethics complaint against “the Gang of 8” — her Council colleagues — as well as several other officials. The seven-page complaint, which cites 15 alleged breaches, comes amid efforts to schedule a hearing on Collins’ own ethics violations. But the latest complaint shouldn’t impede Council’s handling of Collins’ case, says Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch.

“This is kind of an old stunt,” Toro says. “The fact that she filed something against them doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t decide the case in front of them. Otherwise, it would be too easy for people to stunt their way out of an ethics complaint.”

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Elbert County reimbursed disgraced county commissioner for $1000 fine

Marianne Goodland (The Colorado Independent)-

The underlying lawsuit that brought the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission and Colorado Ethics Watch to the Colorado Supreme Court has taken another turn – one that will likely land an Elbert County Commissioner in more hot water.

According to documents obtained by The Colorado Independent, Elbert County reimbursed a county commissioner for a $1,000 fine levied against him for campaign finance violations. That appears to fly in the face of the judge’s order that originally assessed the fine.

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State Supreme Court weighs Colorado Ethics Commission’s secrecy

Marianne Goodland (The Colorado Independent)-

The Colorado Supreme Court now has two cases before it that could either affirm or weaken the authority of the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission to keep much of its work reviewing ethics complaints against public officials out of the public eye.

The first case is an appeal from former Secretary of State Scott Gessler over an ethics commission ruling that Gessler improperly used taxpayer money to attend a Republican Party function. The second case, from the commission itself, is a lawsuit against Colorado Ethics Watch. The commission has asked the court to uphold the panel’s right to dismiss frivolous complaints without further judicial review.

Click here to read the full story in The Colorado Independent.

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Haynes seeking ethics guidance on plans to hold DPS board seat while heading parks and rec

Eric Gorski (Chalkbeat Colorado)-

Allegra “Happy” Haynes is seeking guidance from the Denver Board of Ethics about her imminent plans to take over as executive director of the city’s parks and recreation department while continuing to serve as Denver school board president, Chalkbeat has confirmed.

Haynes requested an advisory opinion, which the city board will consider at its regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday morning, said Michael Henry, the ethics board’s executive director.

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Pugliese vote on tax break was proper, attorney says

Greg Ruland (Grand Junction Sentinel) – Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese’s vote to give a property tax break worth more than $3,500 to a former law client was proper, County Attorney Patrick Coleman said earlier this week.

The vote was proper and Pugliese’s relationship with the former client at the time of the vote imposed no obligation on her to disclose it, Coleman said.

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Ethics Commission runs to Supreme Court in bid to avoid accountability

Late Friday afternoon, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission (“IEC”) asked the Colorado Supreme Court to intervene in an ongoing lawsuit filed by Ethics Watch in May for judicial review of the IEC’s 3-2 decision to dismiss a complaint, filed by Ethics Watch, asking whether Elbert County Commissioner Robert Rowland violated ethical standards of conduct when he cast the deciding vote to authorize the county to pay for an appeal of a campaign finance award against himself personally. The extraordinary petition asks the Supreme Court to hold that IEC decisions to dismiss complaints without a hearing cannot be reviewed by any court.

The IEC’s argument is based on the constitutional provision stating that complaints may be dismissed without a hearing only if they are frivolous, and frivolous complaints must be maintained as confidential. The IEC maintains that this means it may not disclose a dismissed complaint even to a court. Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones rejected the IEC’s argument and ruled that Ethics Watch’s suit may go forward. Ethics Watch had argued that a routine confidentiality order would address the IEC’s concerns.

“We are at a loss to understand why the IEC wants to make a Supreme Court case out of a simple failure to proceed on a case that two of the five commissioners thought deserved a hearing,” said Luis Toro, Director of Colorado Ethics Watch. “Nevertheless, we will fight to make sure the Ethics Commission does the job it was established to do, even if that means going to the Colorado Supreme Court.”

Helpful Links:

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Will Colorado Continue to be a Model in Filling Judicial Vacancies?

Peg Perl (HuffPost Denver) – Three years ago, Colorado was hailed as a “model for senators across the country” because of the cooperative, timely and successful screening process our then-Senators used to inform the President’s nomination for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court of Colorado. It is unclear whether we are still deserving of such praise.

U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn announced last April that he will be taking Senior Status effective April 2016. This announcement opens up a “future vacancy” on the District Court for Colorado and gives the President and the Senate a year to nominate and confirm a new federal judge. While a year seems like a long lead time, that’s not always long enough to get something accomplished in D.C. (There is some sort of human years:dog years conversion needed to for real time:Congress time).

Click here to read the full story in the Huffington Post.

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Court allows Williams to settle Ethics Watch’s suit against Citizens United

Yesterday, Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer dismissed Ethics Watch’s lawsuit against Citizens United for failing to report its spending on television ads attacking Governor John Hickenlooper during the last weeks of the 2014 election campaign. Judge Spencer ruled that a settlement agreement between Citizens United and Secretary of State Wayne Williams in a federal lawsuit filed by Citizens United eliminated Ethics Watch’s ability to enforce Colorado campaign finance laws against Citizens United.

In October 2014, Citizens United filed a federal lawsuit against the Colorado Secretary of State, and won a partial injunction against enforcement of electioneering disclosure laws. The ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that Citizens United need not disclose spending on the film “Rocky Mountain Heist,” a “documentary” released just before the election, but may be required to disclose spending on television ads for the “documentary” that identified Governor Hickenlooper.

Ethics Watch later filed a complaint against CU for electioneering disclosure violations as to television advertisements that were not subject to the injunction. Then, the Secretary entered into a federal consent decree with Citizens United enjoining the enforcement of electioneering disclosure laws, not only as to the spending that the Tenth Circuit said need not be disclosed, but also to the television ads that were the subject matter of the complaint. Yesterday’s ruling concluded that the Secretary’s settlement with Citizens United prevents Ethics Watch from proceeding with its complaint.

Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro said: “We are disappointed that the Court accepted Secretary Williams’ grant of a one-time ‘get out of jail free’ card for Citizens United only. Even though the Supreme Court case that bears its name said corporations and people must be treated equally, Citizens United was happy to accept a special dispensation that allowed it to ignore the rules that apply to everyone else. Secretary Williams should be fighting to enforce campaign finance laws, not cutting special deals with his conservative allies.”

Helpful Links:

  • Click here to read the ALJ’s decision.
  • Click here to read the settlement between Citizens United and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
  • Click here to read the federal district court’s order on the settlement agreement.
  • Click here to read Ethics Watch’s complaint (exhibits).
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Local government emails in Ashley Madison database

Jeremy Jojola (9News) – Taxpayers may also be getting cheated as government employees use their official work accounts to conduct extramarital affairs.

9Wants to Know found numerous local government email accounts in the Ashley Madison database acquired and uploaded by hackers.

“Any kind of misuse, including for your own personal affairs is something that should be avoided,” said Luis Toro of Colorado Ethics Watch, a government watchdog group. “Government emails, government resources at your computer are supposed to be used for public business only.”

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Cynthia Coffman’s private-meeting invitation irks SW Colorado public officials

Susan Greene (Colorado Independent) –

At the peak of the Animas River crisis, Cynthia Coffman reached out to the Durango City Council and La Plata County Commission and invited each member to dinner. But several of her would-be guests didn’t appreciate what the state Attorney General planned to serve up.

Some are blasting Coffman for ignoring Colorado’s open meetings law. As the state’s top law enforcement official, they say, she should have known better than to try to gather them together in a closed meeting.

Click here to read the full story in the Colorado Independent.

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