UPDATE: Joel Miller: Why Collins shouldn't be censured

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Update: City Council voted this afternoon 8-0 to direct its attorney to issue a letter to Helen Collins charging her with three ethics violations, per the recommendation from the Independent Ethics Commission. Collins has 10 days within which to request a public hearing.

Suzanne Dugan, of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC of New York, is representing Council at a rate of $300 per hour, not including travel expenses.

That's more than the IEC's attorney, Jane Feldman of Denver, is being paid, which is $225 per hour, according to a city spokeswoman. Initially, Feldman's contract was for fees not to exceed $6,000. But as of June 3, she had fees totaling $6,277.50, prompting the contract to be amended to a not-to-exceed figure of $12,000.

The city hasn't released a not-to-exceed figure for Dugan.

———ORIGINAL POST TUESDAY, JUNE 9, 2015, 9:53 A.M.———

In our inbox this morning comes this letter to City Council from former Councilor Joel Miller regarding Councilor Helen Collins and the City Attorney's Office's ethics complaint against her.

Miller was elected the same year as Collins, 2013, but resigned last November to run for mayor. He ran third in the April election. Miller, an Air Force Academy grad and career officer, made a lot of enemies in high places by opposing the use of tax money for a downtown stadium. Collins took the same position. 

He believes the ethics complaint is payback for that position, among others. Here's a letter he sent to Council about its pending decision, which is due to happen today at 1 p.m.
Miller: Take it from one who's been there. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Miller: Take it from one who's been there.
Dear City Council:

I am writing to urge you to learn not only the facts of the ethics complaint against Helen Collins, but also the history of the outgoing administration with regard to the use of the ethics process. It is that administration at whose pleasure the complainant worked. Furthermore, the City Attorney’s involvement in the ethics process in any manner whatsoever makes the term “independent” an absolute misnomer when describing the City ethics process. The fact that the City Ethics Code makes no specific provisions for questions over ethics regarding the City Attorney’s Office involvement nor the Mayor’s Office is a problem in and of itself.

The Bach administration who appointed the City Attorney used the ethics complaint process directly as a tool to threaten, attempt to silence and discredit elected officials who refused to keep silent about failures of public trust and the rule of the law. A transcript of a recorded conversation that took place in a public place (note: the audio file of the conversation was made public by being provided to the City Attorney’s Office in response to a CORA request) reads as follows:

Mayor Bach: “If you persist in airing your grievances on Facebook and all the different media, there will be consequences…”

Mayor Bach: “Is it professional to air your concerns on Facebook and other ways?”

CM Miller: “Once you issue a policy that I see does not comply with the rule of law, it is my responsibility and my right to air that concern.”

Mayor Bach: “Is it? Publicly?”

CM Miller: “Yes it is”

Mayor Bach: “You are grandstanding, Councilor, and you are getting yourself into a situation where you’re going to have a big problem here with an ethics complaint.”

This dialog is evidence that specific threats of an unfounded ethics complaint were issued in an attempt to silence the airing of administration failures by a councilmember. Now we have Councilmember Collins who has been outspoken against the City for Champions (and other fiscally irresponsible plans and programs put forward by the Bach administration and his political backers) actually receiving the ethics complaint that was promised to me. Considering the coinciding timing and political and financial backing of Councilmember Collins’ recall campaign, the possibility of political payback as a motive for this complaint cannot be ignored.

Wynetta Massey worked at the pleasure of the mayor, and her office is in charge of the issuing instructions to the IEC. The complaint itself seeks to right the failure of her office to timely place a lean on property. It was not Helen Collins “defrauding” the City—it was failure of the CAO in not placing the lean until days after the transaction in question took place. The IEC makes clear in their report that they had no reason to believe Collins knew of the impending lean. Furthermore, the timing sequence of the complaint in view of a recall campaign should raise ethics questions of the City Attorney’s Office itself. If there was an issue, it should have been brought forward immediately and not delayed weeks so as to coincide with a recall election. The delay along with the fact that Collins was one of only two Councilmembers to vote “no” for Massey’s pay raise and confirmation should also be considered as well if we are looking at “appearances.” The appearance of impropriety with respect to timing and political tit-for-tat on the part of the City Attorney’s Office exists and a separate investigation under City Code §1.2.204.B.3 is certainly warranted.

Lastly, the IEC report appears to place a great deal of weight on the alleged words spoken by Douglas Bruce. His words should be considered immaterial—even if proven to have been said. Did Helen Collins, herself, say she owed Doug Bruce big time for helping her win the election and that’s why she agreed to the transaction? If Bruce’s alleged statement of Collins “owing him” is evidence of her motive, consider a scenario in which a developer donated many thousands to certain councilmembers’ campaigns. This is the case in the latest municipal election. Campaign finance disclosures show they all received far more assistance from certain development interests for their campaigns than Collins did from Bruce. Suppose one of those entities or individuals providing financial support to those campaigns were to say, after a future zoning code variance vote that went favorably for the developer, that those members "had to vote that way because they owed us..." Would that constitute a violation of those members’ ethics?. The answer is absolutely not. What if the Business Alliance PAC stated after this year’s budget votes, "Councilmembers Strand Bagley and Bennett had to vote for continued RBA funding from the City budget and CSU budget because we donated thousands to their campaigns..." Would that constitute an ethics violation on the councilmembers’ part? Again, the answer is ‘of course not.’ Certainly if any stated that his vote would be in response to political debt it would and should be considered a violation of ethics. However, words spoken from individuals and organizations other than the individual being investigated should not be the basis of the decision you all have to make. This is particularly true when the “seller” in the complaint has been labeled with profane labels by some existing members of Council. The City record is replete with examples of political paybacks. Thus I would suggest that you all will be opening yourselves up to a lot of ethics questions about your own past and future official actions if you judge that private actions were in response to campaign help on the basis of another’s stated collection of political debt. Some of you are in office today because of positions you took with respect to taxpayer-funded projects that would directly benefit the benefactors of your campaigns.

If this process—wherein the only outspoken Councilmember against the use of hundreds of millions of taxpayer funds to benefit a core group of political operatives—unfolds to censure Collins, then Colorado Springs will have fully proved and advertised itself as the political boss system it was designed by special interests to be.

Thank you for taking seriously your responsibility to filter through this process.

Respectfully,

Joel Miller

Colorado Springs
In case you missed it, here's the report from the Independent Ethics Commission and its recommendation.

IECReportCollins.pdf

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