Friday, March 6, 2015

UPDATE: Ethics complaint against Collins released

Posted By on Fri, Mar 6, 2015 at 12:58 PM


We just received this commentary from the city, which indicates that no one at the city read the Independent's report about the leaked ethics complaint, which appeared in the Feb. 18 edition. A link is below. The city's comments:
Here is the response from the City Attorney's Office:

Councilmember Collins is not the City Attorney's "client". The client is always the City. The City Council as a body is a "client representative", but an individual councilmember ordinarily is not. This is addressed in the City Attorney Ethics Guidelines, copy attached.

The IEC Complaint # 2015-01 was filed with the IEC on January 21, 2015. The CAO has no knowledge of any facts indicating that the complaint was "leaked" prior to its release under CORA on March 5, 2015. The City Attorney's Office holds confidentiality of utmost importance. If evidence of release of the complaint between its filing with the IEC and its release pursuant to the CORA request is submitted, we will investigate if appropriate.

UPDATE: This blog has been updated with further information about when ethics complaints are made public and to correct that Jane Feldman represents the Ethics Commission.

———— ORIGINAL POST MARCH 6, 2015, 12:58 P.M.———— 

The city has released an ethics complaint filed against Helen Collins by the City Attorney's Office, which alleges she engaged in a land transaction with the intent of helping anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce avoid paying a judgment to the city of roughly $7,500.

Should Collins be found to have violated the ethics code, she can be fined or censured. In this case, City Attorney Wynetta Massey is seeking to have Collins pay the city double the amount it missed out on obtaining from Bruce from a prior court judgment, or $15,139.
click to enlarge Collins: Accused of helping Bruce avoid paying the city. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Collins: Accused of helping Bruce avoid paying the city.
When the Independent reported details of the land transaction at issue several weeks ago (Keeping recalls weird," Feb. 18, 2015), Collins refused to discuss the matter, as did Bruce.

Today, Bruce had plenty to say. More about that later.

First, some background. The city's Ethics Code and Independent Ethics Commission procedures require complaints to remain confidential. Now, the city states that such complaints can be released if found by the commission to be non-frivolous, although the written procedures are silent on that point.

Says city spokeswoman Julie Smith: "Ethics complaints are confidential when filed, but once the IEC determines the complaint is "not frivolous" it becomes a non-confidential public record. However, the IEC investigation remains confidential."

She further says: "The City's Ethics Code is silent on confidentiality after a complaint is determined to be non-frivolous. To determine that issue, we look to CORA at that point and CORA does not contain an exception for a non-frivolous IEC complaint. The City has consistently, pursuant to CORA requests, released ethics complaints that have been determined non-frivolous by the IEC."

The city has hired Jane Feldman to represent the Ethics Commission, agreeing to pay up to $6,000 for the work, at $225 per hour, unless approved to go higher by the mayor or city attorney.

In any event, as Smith notes, the matter was to be kept secret until the non-frivolous finding was made.

Except it wasn't. Someone delivered to our office a couple of Assessor's Office printouts and a printout of a blog the Indy posted on Feb. 4. ("Who's in hot water at the city?") That blog reported the city was looking to hire a lawyer to handle an ethics complaint. So the message was made loud and clear that the pending ethics complaint targeted Collins, long before the Ethics Commission made the non-frivolous finding this week.
click to enlarge Massey: Wants money from Collins. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Massey: Wants money from Collins.
The obvious question: Is the city investigating who blabbed about the complaint? The Indy hasn't been contacted by any investigator, so guess not. Isn't letting go of that confidential information a violation of the Ethics Code? Guess not.

Anyway, while Bruce still isn't talking about the motivation behind the land transactions, he had plenty to say about how this issue has unfolded, starting with the anonymous tip provided to the Indy.

"Who violated the rules? Who had possession of the information? That is obviously Wynetta Massey," Bruce says. "She not only has that apparent violation, and the commission has a violation of its own procedure, but she also has an ethical violation that should be reported to the state bar for suing her client [Helen Collins]. The only time an attorney gets to sue his client that I'm aware of is when the client doesn't pay the bill."

He then notes that Collins voted against Massey's pay increase to $192,000 a year.

"The purpose and timing of this is obvious," Bruce says, meaning those pushing the recall of Collins in the April 7 city election are trying to drum up another reason she should be ousted.

"There's not one thing she violated by signing a piece of paper," he says. "The only response any rational person can have to their allegations is, so what? Show me a victim."

We've asked for a comment from Collins and haven't heard back.

We've also asked for a comment from Massey about Bruce's contention she should be disciplined for filing a complaint against her own client, and whether the city is interested in investigating who divulged the ethics complaint while it was supposed to be kept confidential. We'll circle back if we hear something.

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