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."
If the Independent Ethics Commission finds Collins' and Bruce's complaint is valid, he notes, it would go to Council to decide a case about themselves, which would be tricky. But the complaint doesn't negate Council's oversight of the Collins case, Toro says.
It's the latest maneuver in a drawn-out process that began in January when City Attorney Wynetta Massey filed a complaint against Collins alleging she overstepped the ethics code by acting as a go-between in transferring ownership of a condo held by Bruce to a third-party buyer. The IEC found the deal "wrought with fraud," and that Collins placed "her friendship with [Bruce] above her loyalty to the city." The IEC, though, admitted the city hadn't attached a lien to the condo, which had belonged to Bruce's deceased mother, before it passed through Collins' hands.
Collins and Bruce accuse Massey of a "witch hunt" against them. They also allege the city's spending of $42,000 so far on attorneys to represent the IEC and Council in the Collins matter was illegal, because Council didn't vote on it. They ding Council for accepting taxpayer-funded catered meals on meeting days, as well as $8,000 each per year for expenses. They also accuse Council of violating the state Constitution in doling out tax money and rate money to private corporations, such as the Regional Business Alliance, and say Council is ignoring Issue 300, approved by voters in 2009, which requires Utilities' $31 million annual payment to the city be phased out. Instead, the payment continues.
The complaint also accuses:
• Council President Merv Bennett of evading open-meeting laws by holding seven meetings with individual Councilors to discuss Collins' ethics case;
• Councilor Bill Murray of an ethics breach in urging Collins privately to settle the matter;
• Mayor John Suthers of illegally offering to halve the $500 ticket to an El Paso County Posse party at the State Fair for Council. The limit for gifts is $50. Developer Steve Schuck offered to pay the other half, and several councilors accepted the tickets;
• Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte for "discriminatory" water hookup policies that targeted Bruce;
Bennett and Murray, in Washington, D.C., on a city-related trip, say they haven't seen the complaint.
Retired federal magistrate Boyd Boland, at $450 per hour, is to preside at Collins' hearing, for which no date has been set. Read the complaint here, and the exhibits here:3186_001.pdf