Commission votes, mayor gloats

Tue, Aug 11, 2009


As predicted by many, the two-member Independent Ethics Commission cleared Mayor Lionel Rivera of any violation of the city Code of Ethics, as alleged in the complaint filed by Ron Johnson.

The report is carefully crafted, fair, judicious and as complete and accurate as it could be, given the limited scope of the inquiry.

As the report states: “the commission’s investigation was limited to a review of the Mayor’s actions concerning the project as they relate to the allegations contained in the complaint and its supplement.”

Such limitations were proper and necessary.  Johnson’s allegations should not, and did not, trigger a witch hunt, in which the commission might have interviewed dozens of witnesses, who might have made further allegations of unrelated misdeeds, which would then have been investigated, and so on ad infinitum.

Instead, the commission interviewed only the Mayor, Ray Marshall (accompanied by his attorney John Cook), councilmember Scott Hente, assistant city manager Mike Anderson, former councilmember Margaret Radford, and USOC consultant Jim Didion.  All witnesses appeared voluntarily, without subpoena.

The commission declined to interview any other individuals suggested by Johnson or his attorney, noting that “the information allegedly possessed by those individuals was either duplicative or not germane to the issue of the Mayor’s involvement in the USOC project.”

It’s pretty clear that none of the individuals interviewed held any animus toward the Mayor.  To the contrary, every one of them had powerful reasons to present the Mayor’s actions, and by extension their own, in the best possible light. 

During the time that the interviews were taking place, LandCo, the city, and the USOC were in the midst of renegotiating their deals with each other, in the wake of the disastrous collapse of the initial EDA.  Didion’s present role with the USOC, if any, is unknown, but Marshall, Anderson, Hente, and the Mayor have all been deeply involved in restructuring the deals.  Radford’s involvement ended with her council term last April, but she has long been an ally/admirer of the Mayor.

The city’s current spin on the collapse of the previous agreement is this: forget all the lawsuits, allegations, and angry words-it was all the economy’s fault!  In a presentation to council, Mike Anderson cited the “world financial meltdown” as the sole reason for the deal’s demise.  In other words, it’s nobody’s fault, so let’s all move on.

Based on the testimony of these individuals, the commission concluded that the mayor had no part in choosing LandCo as the designated USOC developer, did not take positions or actions that favored LandCo, and that any subsequent contacts with LandCo were made for the purpose of advancing the city’s interests, not LandCo’s.

The most significant omission on the list of witnesses may be that of former USOC CEO Jim Scherr, who, the report noted, had been quoted in “news reports” as saying that the LandCo selection had been made by the city, not by the USOC.  The commission chose not to interview him, both because of “overwhelming evidence” that the choice was made by the USOC, and because of Jim Didion’s statement that Scherr had little or no involvement in the process.

The omission is disturbing, because the “overwhelming evidence” that the report cites presumably comes from the testimony of the six interviewees.  One would think that possibly contradictory testimony would be welcome, even if it presented the two commissioners with the tiresome task of figuring out the truth of the matter from differing accounts.

The most interesting paragraph in the seven page report is this one, in which the commission gingerly tackles the question of Rivera’s failure to disclose a financial relationship with LandCo CEO Marshall

“Finally, the commission wishes to address the issue of whether the Mayor should have disclosed his prior business relationship with Mr. Marshall.  The Mayor’s explanation for not making the disclosure has been that it would constitute a breach of the UBS policy of respecting the confidentiality of its clients.  Had the Mayor disclosed the prior relationship it would probably have negated the suspicions that ultimately led to a request for an investigation.  In the Mayor’s view, it would also have been a serious violation of a business and ethical responsibility.  Whether the Commission agrees with the Mayor’s decision is not pertinent(italics added).  As noted previously, at the time the Mayor had the business relationship decisions were being made as to which developers would receive requests for proposals and, possibly, which developer should be selected to participate in the USOC project.  The Commission could find no evidence that the Mayor participated in any manner in these decisions.  Nor was there any evidence that the Mayor attempted to exert any influence, direct or indirect, in these decisions.  For these reasons the Commission does not believe that the Mayor’s failure to disclose constituted a violation of the Code of Ethics.”

Not even a slap on the wrist!  The commission simply decided that an apparent conflict wasn’t a conflict, since Rivera had, to the best of their knowledge, taken no actions that might unduly benefit LandCo, or disadvantage other applicants.

But here’s the crux of the matter: no person can serve two masters.  The Mayor can either serve his employer, or the people of this city.  He can’t just walk a tightrope, and pretend to serve both.  If his employment is of such a nature that he can’t reveal possibly conflictual actions, he should resign either from UBS or from elected office.

That may seem unfair-but too bad.  It may be that you can’t both be Mayor of Colorado Springs and an ambitious go-getter at the same time.

Clearly, neither the Mayor’s enemies nor the opponents of the USOC deal will be happy with this report.  Too bad for them-game, set, and match to Lionel.

There will still be questions and whispers, as in: How much did the Mayor make from his business relationship with Marshall?  Were there other accounts?  Was all the testimony truthful?  What really happened-surely seven pages of dry legalese can’t close the book on all this juicy gossip?

But from now on, it’s all pointless speculation. We’ll never know.

 In a few hours, the curtain will rise on what may be the final act in the USOC saga, when council is expected to approve the new USOC deal in all of its sleek, gleaming perfection.  It’ll cost the hapless taxpayers $40 or $50 million-but who’s counting?  Not I-I’ll be there, hoping that I can get USOC boss Stephanie Streeter to autograph my copy of the agenda…









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