Thursday, February 28, 2013

UPDATE: City attorney issues campaign warning

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2013 at 7:25 PM

We've heard back from Glenn Grose, vice president of the CSU EAG, who says:

Colorado Springs Utilities Employee Advocacy Group is an incorporated non-profit [501 (c)(5)] independent from Colorado Springs Utilities. As such, we are able to interview and endorse candidates. Our stated mission as an organization is to "positively influence and collaborate with key decision makers for the benefit of CSU employee members, Utilities ratepayers and the Colorado Springs community. We strive to work cooperatively with the CEO, the Utilities Board and Colorado Springs City Government as we represent CSU employee members by speaking with one voice." Our purpose and existence was inspired by the Police Protective Association and, just as they are, we are actively engaged in the political process. Our hard-working, knowledgeable employees (who are also ratepayers by the way) want and deserve a voice in community discussions as it relates to utilities.

When employees engage in EAG activities, it must be on their own time - we use breaks, lunch time, after work and personal leave/vacation (as was the case mentioned in Chris Melcher's letter). We communicate through home e-mail addresses and I am unaware of an e-mail sent internally which solicited donations.
We pay for our own printing and materials, often out of the board member's own pockets, and do not use CSU resources. We do use inter-office mail, as it is allowed in our Personnel Policies Manual.

Regarding the "anonymous donation" comment, we did print that on our flyer, but found out after we would need to release names of our donors. We intend to comply with all campaign rules. Frankly, Mayor Bach has a reputation of intimidation and vindictiveness towards those who oppose him. Bob Greene and I were warned by an organization leader who works closely with the Mayor that, "you don't want to upset the Mayor or he will take you out at the knees." We were trying to find a safe way for our employees to participate in the political process without fear of retribution.

We are more than happy to address specific allegations as they arise.

In addition, City Attorney Chris Melcher called to say he is working with CSU management "to see if there's a response necessary" to allegations raised involving the EAG's activities.


—————————-ORIGINAL POST THURSDAY, FEB. 28, 3:28 P.M.———————————————
City employees are being warned not to use city time and resources to campaign for candidates or issues in the April 2 city election.

Chris Melcher Springs Utilities
  • Kin Scott
  • Melcher: Employees can't campaign on city time.

While all city workers were sent an advisory to that effect by the city communications office, City Attorney Chris Melcher himself sent a special warning to Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte this morning saying the CSU employees group that's mounting a campaign for certain candidates had better follow the rules.

Melcher writes:

Jerry,

It has been reported and confirmed that there is a CSU Employee Advocacy Group (CSU EAG) that is actively engaged in campaigning both for and against candidates for City Council in the April Municipal Election. You may view their website at the following link (http://www.csuadvocacy.com/#). A CSU employee called the City Clerk Sarah Johnson last week during business hours and identified himself by name, stated that 1) he is leading the CSU EAG, 2) he was calling the City Clerk for information regarding Campaign Finance Disclosure requirements, 3) that the EAG has been “getting donations from employees to then give out to candidates”, 4) that there are several CSU employees working with CSU EAG, and 5) he and CSU EAG intend to continue to raise funds from employees and distribute funds to candidates. There also may have been a CSU inter-office email sent on Friday February 21, 2013 soliciting campaign donations “anonymously” and requesting those donations to be delivered to CSU EAG via CSU inter-office email. This effort, if true, may constitute a use of City resources for impermissible campaign purposes. This CSU employee also stated the CSU EAG is actively involved in advocating and campaigning in the April Election. It appears that this employee and other CSU employees may be engaged in impermissible campaign activities during work hours, and the impermissible use of CSU resources for campaign purposes.

Would you please make sure that the summary from Deputy City Attorney Florczak to Sherri Newell (CSU Public Communications) is distributed to all CSU employees via email today to make sure they are well informed and aware of the guidelines and prohibitions set forth in the Charter and the City Code on City employee activities in City elections. This may help prevent possible violations of City Code by CSU employees. As you know, under the Charter and the City Code (Section 1.1.106), all CSU employees are City employees and are thereby bound in the same as way as other City employees by the election guidelines. Additionally, under the City Charter and state law, CSU is a “City-owned business” and therefore all CSU resources would be considered “City resources” for purposes of these activities. We would appreciate it if you would copy Mr. Florczak and City Clerk Sarah Johnson on the CSU employee communication so that they may answer any questions from CSU employees.

Thank you for your assistance, best wishes,

Christopher J. Melcher
City Attorney/Chief Legal Officer

As you might be aware, the EAG earlier this week endorsed candidates for the six district City Council seats. They are Don Knight in D1; Joel Miller in D2; Jim Bensberg in D3; Dennis Moore in D4; Bernie Herpin in D5; and Andres Pico in D6.

As you might also have noticed, none of the candidates that CSU workers chose were on the list chosen by the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, which has a lot of money to put behind its choices. Those are Tim Leigh in D1; Angela Dougan in D2; Keith King in D3; Deborah Hendrix in D4; Al Loma in D5, and David Moore in D6.

Some observers speculate that the HBA choices comprise Mayor Steve Bach's slate, but Bach has said he doesn't have a slate, and he's endorsed only one candidate so far, Dougan in the north district.

Anyway, we asked Melcher whether his warning to CSU was duplicated to others, notably the Police Protective Association, which chose the same candidates as the HBA, except for choosing Jill Gaebler in D5, and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5, which has yet to post endorsements on its website. Both groups endorsed Bach's opponent, Richard Skorman, two years ago.

Melcher's reply: "The City Communications Office today sent an election advisory to all City employees, including all employees (both sworn and civilian) of the City Civilian Departments, the City Enterprises (other than CSU), the Police Department, and the Fire Department. The CSU Communications Office has sent the same election advisory communication today to all CSU employees."

So we asked CSU if it has any reason to believe its employees are violating the rules, and got this response from CSU spokesman Dave Grossman:

We are not aware of any employees campaigning on city time or using City resources. Prior to each election, Utilities makes sure its employees are aware of election guidelines. Here's a timeline of when and where we've communicated employee election guidelines internally this time around:

All employee email:
Feb. 26
Feb. 28 (with the message verbatim from the Office of the City Attorney)

Outlook employee newsletter:
Jan. 28
Feb. 25

Employee updates page (employee Intranet)
Since Jan. 28

Hot topics page (employee Intranet)
Beginning approx. Jan. 28 through the election

Spotlight (employee intranet homepage)
Week of Jan. 28, and will continue periodically through the election

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