Leigh cleared of ethics allegations

Filed under: Government |

In an 11-page report to City Council, the Colorado Springs Independent Ethics Commission found that former City Councilman Tim Leigh did not violate any provision of the city ethics code, as alleged by Dave Neumann and Neumann Systems Group.

City Council formally accepted the report Monday and voted unanimously to take no further action.

Leigh had long claimed that Neumann and his company were the beneficiaries of a “sweetheart contract” with Colorado Springs Utilities that would force utility customers to pay tens of millions for unproven pollution control technology.

Convinced that Leigh was acting in bad faith, and alleging that he was even angling to create commission income for his own benefit, Neumann first charged Leigh with ethics violations on Nov. 27, 2012, updating the complaints twice in December, and filing yet more allegations in February.

The commission summarily dismissed many of Neumann’s allegations, noting that they were either outside of the body’s jurisdiction, or “related to speech and associational activity protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution…”

The commission agreed to rule on allegations that Leigh had sought personal gain through a Utilities vendor, that he had a conflict of interest because of direct or indirect financial interests in downtown property that might be affected by the closure of the Drake power plant, that “he engaged in activities that may create or does create the appearance of impropriety,” and that Leigh violated the ethics code by receiving more than $1,000 in reimbursement from the city for an allegedly personal trip to North Dakota.

Believing that the allegations were entirely frivolous, Leigh initially declined to participate in the process. In March, he hired an attorney, Louis Larimer, to represent him. Much back-and-forthing ensued before Leigh and his attorney formally met with two members of the four-person ethics commission.

In its report, the commission describes a tangled web of misunderstanding, suspicion, anger and clashing personalities. Leigh is portrayed as outspoken, careless, but innocent of any wrongdoing, while Neumann and his associates seem to be wary, suspicious, self-protective and angry at Leigh’s repeated attacks on the company and its officers.

“I’m delighted that I was exonerated,” said Leigh. “It’s no surprise. I’m just dismayed that it cost me $17,000 in legal fees, as well as time, energy, sleepless nights and reputational damage.”

The saga may not be over. Neumann demanded in April that Leigh apologize to the company for libelous statements made in a variety of emails, make a public apology for his various misdeeds, and/or pay the company $5 million in damages. If Leigh fails to comply with those demands, Neumann has said he may file suit.

Any such suit might last for years and be extremely costly to both parties — and Springs residents might foot the legal bills for both sides.

Since Neumann Systems Group derives all of its revenue from a single customer, Colorado Springs Utilities, local ratepayers will indirectly fund Neumann’s bills. Buttressed by the commission’s report, Leigh says he may claim that he was acting in his capacity as a city elected official, and demand that the city reimburse his legal expenses.