In the interest of full disclosure, Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera was an opponent of mine for the Republican nomination to Congress in 2006. For this reason, if I ever sat on an official commission reviewing an ethics complaint against the Mayor, I would recuse myself from his case.
This week the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that Jan Doran, a member of the city ethics commission looking into the ethics complaint against Mayor Rivera (and a person that I genuinely like) was a member of Rivera’s 2006 Congressional campaign steering committee. In addition, Doran officially supported the Mayor for re-election in 2007.
The city ethics code, pushed by Lionel Rivera a few years ago, requires elected officials and those that serve on boards and commissions to ensure that there is not even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
To the average citizen, this is a no-brainer. Conflict of interest? At the very least, there is a clear appearance of a conflict. No doubt that if I served on the commission the Mayor’s supporters, and perhaps the Mayor himself, would demand that I recuse myself because of the appearance of bias. After all, if this was a court of law and Mrs. Doran or I was in the jury pool and disclosed our prior affiliation with the defendant, we would be immediately struck from the jury by the prosecution. Why would Doran’s current situation be any different?
Before I go any further, let me lay out some credentials on this matter. I served as the Administrative Director to Congressman Joel Hefley who, as Chairman of the House Ethics Committee, earned a well-deserved reputation for raising the bar on Congressional Ethics. Chairman Hefley understood that his job, above all, was to protect the integrity of the institution of Congress – a job some might say was impossible. Hefley forced the expulsion of the first member of Congress since reconstruction in Democrat Jim Traficant and took on the corruption of his own Republican Majority Leader, Tom DeLay. He also ensured that every member and staff member of the Ethics Committee remained ethical to their core, disclosing, and recusing themselves if it left even an appearance of conflict. With bipartisan support he singlehandedly restored some faith back into the Congressional ethics process – faith that has since been lost again.
When asked by the Gazette about her service on the commission (she was appointed to the commission by Rivera and other members of the city council) she said, “I disclosed to the city attorney what my position was with the mayor's campaign, both his congressional and his last mayoral campaign, and I asked her opinion, and she said it did not compromise my position.”
Perhaps we have just found the crux of the problem. If the city attorney doesn’t see an appearance of a conflict of interest when someone served on the campaign steering committee of the person they are supposed to judge, what are citizens of our fair city supposed to think?
This comes on the heels of Councilman Jerry Heimlicher’s email to the citizen accuser in the ethics complaint to “put up or shut up,” a vow of silence by normally chatty council members about the case, and an indignant Mayor who happily attends photo ops and luncheons as long as “the subject” doesn’t come up.
I believe the Mayor ought to be presumed innocent unless and until evidence exists that shows otherwise. It would seem to me that, if the Mayor wants to clear his name, he would demand that Doran step down from the ethics commission and that the commission take all necessary means, including their subpoena power, to find the evidence to clear his name. The citizens of Colorado Springs deserve nothing less.