DENVER - Today, Colorado Ethics Watch released its fifth annual report on the top ethical scandals in Colorado in 2012, focusing on the five most public and egregious lapses in judgement and ethics by public and elected officials. The report highlights the lack of structure of Colorado’s government to prevent and respond to corruption, and the need for ethics enforcement to match the laws that are currently in place to keep state government clean.
“The five scandals detailed in this year’s Ethics Roundup are the clearest examples of where our enforcement system is working, and where it is lacking,” said Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch. “When a city council is its own ethics panel, or where a public official who has been convicted of crime related to his office and awaits trial for more such crimes is still in office, we know we have a problem. The sooner local governments and our state legislature recognize the shortcomings in our enforcement systems, the sooner we’ll have government that we can all trust.”
This year’s Top Scandals were:
1) Public Trustees Lose the Public Trust: This year, Colorado’s public trustees lost the public trust by accepting excessive gifts from for-profit companies for the entertainment of trustees and highly questionable spending of taxpayer money by some individual trustees without sufficient oversight. Following a complaint filed by Ethics Watch, in March, the IEC found that the Public Trustee Association of Colorado violated Amendment 41 and ordered them to pay nearly $3,000 in fines. And in July, Governor Hickenlooper requested the resignation of all 10 of the appointed public trustees amid reports of questionable spending.
2) Adams County Meltdown Still Boiling Over: Two high-profile scandals rocked county government in Adams County in 2012, prompting reforms but also furthering its reputation for corruption. Surprisingly, the reputation starts at home: in a May 2012 survey, only 44% of Adams County residents agreed that they could “trust Adams County government to do what is right always or most of the time.”
3) Scott Gessler’s Personal Piggy Bank: Controversial Secretary of State Scott Gessler made a name for himself while attempting to reshape Colorado election and campaign finance laws in this election year. He earned fame of a different kind when a review of public records revealed evidence of misuse of public funds by Secretary Gessler, including the use of state funds to cover travel expenses for partisan events, which implicates several laws against public corruption.
4) Special Treatment for State Legislators: State Representative Laura Bradford’s traffic stop for suspicion of drunk driving in January 2012 revealed an internal policy of special treatment for state legislators by Denver law enforcement. The incident also showcased a failure of the House of Representatives to self-police standards of conduct through its ethics committee. Taken together, the actions of the Denver Police Department (DPD) and the House Ethics Committee demonstrate that members of the General Assembly get special treatment, even if (like Rep. Bradford) they do not ask for it.
5) Trinidad Councilwoman Shows Police Who’s Boss: A July 2011 raid revealed gambling and liquor law violations were taking place at Gino’s Sports Bar in Trinidad, an establishment co-owned by Trinidad Councilwoman Linda Velasquez. As a result, Councilwoman Velasquez was charged with three felonies, while two misdemeanor charges from the same incident were dropped earlier this year. More indicative of small town corruption was the lack of consequences for Councilwoman Velasquez after she threatened “paybacks” to the Chief of Police for approving the raid.
In reviewing this year’s top scandalous events among our public officials, Ethics Watch noted an earlier study that pointed out the failings of Colorado’s ethics enforcement capacity. Earlier this year, the State Integrity Investigation released findings of its research on the ethics laws, enforcement and infrastructure for state government in all 50 states in the nation. Colorado received an overall score of a “D+” in this report, with a grade of “F” in five of the 14 examined areas.
Colorado received failing grades in the categories of ethics enforcement, public access to information, and three others. In contrast, the state’s auditor received an “A,” bringing the overall integrity grade just above failing.
Colorado Ethics Watch was formed in 2006 specifically to be a public watchdog of state officials and state government. As the first organization to act on the lack of structure in existence to enforce ethical standards, the organization took on much of the responsibility itself.
“Over the years, laws have been added, review panels introduced, and other positive reforms made,” said Toro. “All too often, however, it is left to private citizens with no power to perform audits or serve subpoenas to actually enforce ethics and transparency standards. Until we have the infrastructure in place to respond to corruption appropriately, our state will continue to enable misbehavior.”