Just because El Paso County's elected officials are paid $87,300 a year doesn't mean they can't have second jobs. Several do. Two own law firms, another runs a bed and breakfast, and yet another works in real estate.
No law or policy bans such moonlighting, or even requires officials to divulge those outside interests, although the four officials referenced above have done so. And with no mandate for disclosure — unlike in city or state government — there's no way for voters to know when county elected officials might encounter a conflict of interest between their public and private roles.
That lack of transparency is "a serious problem," says Luis Toro, director of the nonprofit Colorado Ethics Watch, which recently helped spotlight new Secretary of State Scott Gessler's plan to work for his law firm on the side to supplement his $68,500 state salary. Gessler, a Republican, wound up leaving the firm last month, after critics demanded he disclose client names.
"In the absence of a meaningful disclosure requirement," Toro says, "it is very difficult for the public to monitor these potential conflicts."
Toro points to county officials' pay, set by state lawmakers and nearly $20,000 more than Gessler's: "If you're paid $87,000, I'm sorry, I think that's a full-time salary."
Treasurer Bob Balink and Assessor Mark Lowderman also see it that way, but they're in the minority.
"I do not believe any El Paso County elected officials should have outside employment," Balink writes in an e-mail. "These are full-time jobs. 24/7."
Lowderman adds, also in an e-mail, that side jobs are a "disservice to the citizens." That makes disclosure a no-brainer, he says, because, "The voters are certainly entitled to know if we plan to treat our office as less than full time employment."
'The real world'
Of the five commissioners, two — Amy Lathen and Dennis Hisey — don't work side jobs, but neither swore off the possibility. In fact, Hisey thinks a ban would "violate all types of civil rights." (Toro disagrees.)
Although Hisey sold his home repair and remodel business before taking office, if he hadn't been able to sell it, he says in an e-mail, he and his wife would have kept it going, with commissioner remaining "my primary job."
Lathen says that commissioner is her only job, other than to joke that she earned $62 at her garage sale last year.
Commissioner Darryl Glenn, who took office last month, says county officials should have to report private interests and assets, like City Council members must, and also disclose potential conflicts. ("I don't have any," he says.) Similarly, state officials are required to report sources of income and ownership on personal financial disclosure forms.
Glenn still has his hand in two businesses. He helps his wife run the Ultimate Fitness Zone "in the evening and on weekends." And he retains ownership of Glenn Law Firm PC, despite serving as the commission's liaison to the court. He says he has "restructured" his role in the firm and no longer takes cases, leaving his wife as sole litigator, "because I have to interact with the chief judge."
But Toro says downplaying his role isn't enough; Glenn still benefits from whatever benefits the firm, similar to the Gessler dilemma.
"There's no way we should be forced to turn over our client list," Glenn counters, noting that attorneys are bound by ethics rules and subject to discipline if someone files a complaint.
Commissioner Sallie Clark has owned and operated her west side bed and breakfast business, Holden House, during her six years in office and sees nothing wrong with it. In fact, she says in an e-mail, it "keeps [her] grounded in the real world" of business. If elected officials had to forfeit their businesses or jobs, she believes no "successful business operators or career professionals" would seek office.
Peggy Littleton, who was paid to help charter schools buy property while she served on the state Board of Education, didn't respond to e-mailed questions. Reached by phone, she said, "Is it going to be reported truthfully and honestly without trying to slam me?" She then said she would decide whether to respond, and never replied.
Sheriff Terry Maketa, who makes $111,000 annually, and newly elected Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams, who is paid $87,300, say they see nothing wrong with outside employment.
Maketa doesn't work a second job, but Williams runs his law practice on the side, just as he did as a commissioner for the past eight years. He says the work, done mostly at night, doesn't pose a conflict of interest; his specialties are employment and insurance law.
Moreover, he adds that allowing officials leeway in running businesses on the side ensures "independence in office," because their incomes aren't solely from the government. "On a personal level, with two children in college, there are a number of expenses involved, so I choose to work additional hours in a second job to better provide for my family," he writes in an e-mail.
However, his predecessors, going back to 1963, haven't held outside employment of any kind, including, in reverse order, Balink, Terry Sholdt, Patrick Kelly, Ardis Schmitt and Harriet Beals.
Says Schmitt, who served 17 years before retiring in 1996, "I wouldn't have had time. I found it all-consuming."
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