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Local businessman tries to increase the heat on Tim Leigh

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As if the ethics investigation into City Councilor Tim Leigh wasn't strange enough already.

David Neumann, the instigator of the probe, has upped the ante by alleging Leigh has committed a criminal offense. Citing his "understanding" and "opinion," the president of Neumann Systems Group claims in an e-mail to City Attorney Chris Melcher that Leigh provided false information to the city in order to get reimbursed for a trip to North Dakota last year.

Asked for comment, Leigh says only via e-mail, "On advice from my legal team — 2 law firms — I can't comment on anything relating to ethics investigation while it is in process."

Neumann Systems Group has a contract with Colorado Springs Utilities for coal-scrubbing equipment to be installed at downtown's Martin Drake Power Plant. Leigh, who as a Councilor serves as a Utilities Board member, voted to proceed with the arrangement last summer, but since has turned against it.

In January, the Independent Ethics Commission found reason to investigate whether, as alleged by Neumann, Leigh sought personal gain through a city vendor by suggesting he receive a commission for the possible sale of NSG to a North Dakota investor; whether Leigh, a commercial real estate broker, has a conflict of interest in the Drake project because of how it might affect downtown properties; and whether Leigh engaged in "activities that may create or does [sic] create the appearance of impropriety."

Neumann's brand-new accusation focuses on a trip Leigh took to North Dakota in August. Instead of seeking Council's permission for reimbursement prior to leaving, which is city policy, Leigh asked to be repaid after he got back. "A large part of the trip had a specific purpose, to investigate the impact of oil drilling in the region," he wrote to Council liaison Aimee Cox on Aug. 19.

Cox told Leigh via e-mail he needed to tell Council "what [he] learned" to be reimbursed. The next day, Leigh sent a list that included points related to both oil and gas and to NeuStream, saying that he learned that "Neumann's system has been tested (and those tests validated) and it's the impression of industry experts, it works."

Among other things, he wrote, "This was verified by the EERC [Energy & Environmental Research Center] at the University of North Dakota." The e-mail doesn't specifically say that Leigh actually visited the EERC, but that's how Neumann seems to read it — and he points out that a center spokesperson has no record of an August visit from Leigh.

Council did approve Leigh's reimbursement, despite it being the first after-the-fact request that President Scott Hente can remember. He says he asked his colleagues, "'Is there any objection?' And I didn't hear any."

Records show Leigh was reimbursed for 1,580 miles ($877), hotels ($311) and food ($115), for a total of $1,303. Last year, the city budgeted $5,000 to each of the nine Council members for travel-related expenses.

While it's unclear whether Melcher will refer this new complaint to the district attorney, as Neumann asks, Leigh has already hired an attorney to represent him in the ongoing Ethics Commission investigation. Noting the allegations against Leigh arose "out of the performance of his duties on behalf of the citizens of Colorado Springs," attorney Howard Alpern of Alpern Myers Stuart LLC asks in a letter to Melcher that the city reimburse Leigh for legal expenses.

Melcher says in a statement that his office was to meet with Council in closed session Monday to discuss "legal representation for persons that are the subject of complaints brought to the IEC."

zubeck@csindy.com

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