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Council President Richard Skorman accused of citing his position at accident scene

She says, he says


Richard Skorman faces an allegation he cited his City Council title at a vehicle crash site. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Richard Skorman faces an allegation he cited his City Council title at a vehicle crash site.
On the afternoon of March 21, City Council President Richard Skorman received a text about a fender bender — a seemingly innocuous event that’s triggered an ethics complaint alleging an “egregious act” and subsequent reports on conservative platforms raising questions about Skorman’s involvement.

That text came from a family friend, Madalyne Mykut, who rear-ended Barbara Sutherland. Upon arriving on the scene — Sutherland claimed in a March 27 ethics complaint — Skorman said to her, “Do you know who I am? I am President of City Council.”

Skorman says his comments are being mischaracterized and that he merely wanted Sutherland to know he could vouch for Mykut.

The Independent Ethics Committee, composed of citizens, has already determined the complaint is “non-frivolous” and investigated it, which led to the maximum allowed city payment of attorney fees of $10,000, records show. Council was due on Sept. 25 — as the Independent went to press — to decide whether to press the complaint to a hearing, which could lead to a reprimand or censure of Skorman. Council also could take the unlikely step of replacing him as president, which wouldn’t curtail his voting capacity on Council. (The last censure action was against Helen Collins in 2016.)

Skorman’s attorney argues Sutherland’s complaint doesn’t square with Skorman’s version and claims that, even if Sutherland’s story is true, the city’s Ethics Code doesn’t bar such behavior.
At issue is a minor collision that happened just before 3 p.m. on March 21 at West Cheyenne Road and Fenmore Place. Sutherland, 51, called police at 3:10 p.m., after she was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by Mykut, 38, who told police Sutherland “slammed on her breaks [sic].”

Sutherland told an officer that immediately following the crash, Mykut offered her $100 not to call police, but she refused. Mykut had produced registration and proof of insurance but admitted not having a driver’s license. Mykut was cited for careless driving and driving without a license, but the citations were later dropped, records show.

Sutherland says she was on the phone at 6:04 p.m. when Skorman arrived. She claims Skorman told her husband, William, who had arrived at the scene earlier, there was no reason to stay at the scene. William told Skorman they preferred to wait for police because Mykut didn’t have a license.

According to her complaint, once she was off the phone, Barbara Sutherland says Skorman told her Mykut’s license had been revoked in California, but that he could vouch for her and that “there was no reason to have the police come out.” Sutherland told him she wanted the police to come. Skorman then stated he was Council president and said, “I am going to vouch for her, do you not trust me?”

Sutherland accused Skorman of being “extremely aggressive” and told him to leave or she’d call the police. Skorman then removed a backpack (which he says contained cleaning supplies) from Mykut’s car and left.

Sutherland then called the police.

Skorman’s account of the day in question starts with a text from Mykut, saying she couldn’t clean his house that day because she’d been in a fender bender. Skorman describes Mykut as a family friend and employee who at one time he believed to be his daughter but later learned is not. He says Mykut worked at his restaurant, Poor Richard’s, years ago.

Records show that on March 21, Skorman left a Utilities board meeting at 5:45 p.m. He then drove Councilor Yolanda Avila, who is legally blind, to her Southeast home. Skorman’s attorney, Andrew Swan, says Skorman then picked up his dog and drove to the scene, arriving about 6:15 p.m.

Skorman tells the Indy he was at the scene for about seven minutes, never raised his voice and never said Mykut lost her license in California because “she’d never been to California.” He says he told Sutherland he is Council president to assure her that, having vouched for Mykut, he could be easily found. “I was only trying to verify I was a family friend,” Skorman says. “I did give her my card and say I was president of Council and I was easy to find.” He also told Sutherland she could report the minor accident online rather than waiting for police to arrive.

Swan notes phone records don’t show a 6 p.m. call by Sutherland to police, but Sutherland tells the Indy the police called her at 6 p.m. Police couldn’t immediately verify the phone call. Swan also notes that Sutherland said in the complaint, and in a lengthy Facebook post a day later, that her son was in the backseat of her car, described by police as a two-seater 2014 Mercedes-Benz coupe. Sutherland later said that her son waited in the backseat of her husband’s SUV.

After Sutherland’s Facebook post, Fox21 News aired a story in which Skorman said he didn’t feel it was a big incident, but apologized if he had made Sutherland uncomfortable.

KVOR Radio’s Jeff Crank, a conservative Republican who ran for Congress in 2006 vowing to use a chainsaw on the tax code, first aired the incident on April 7 and again as an update later.

Laura Carno, who managed the 2011 mayoral campaign of Steve Bach, a Republican who defeated Skorman, posted a link to Crank’s program on her website. And on April 18, posted a story in which Skorman denies making threats and says, “I gave her my business card and reiterated that I could verify the lady’s [Mykut’s] identification.” The story also quotes William Sutherland saying Skorman was “somewhat aggressive.”

“I think this is all about making me a political target,” Skorman tells the Indy, noting conservatives opposed his 2011 mayoral run, as well as his successful 2015 Council bid. Skorman is unaffiliated but linked with liberal causes and worked for former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a Democrat. “People don’t want my voice out there,” he says.

Sutherland admits she’s a registered Republican and didn’t vote for Skorman. “But that had nothing to do with the situation,” she tells the Indy, noting she’s visited Skorman’s businesses.

Crank says he would have run the story regardless of politics, due to “the weirdness of the backpack and the mystery of the woman [Mykut],” who he noted has had “numerous run-ins with the law.” A court check shows Mykut has had more than a dozen traffic citations and about 11 recovery-of-money cases filed against her in the last 20 years.

“I don’t think it’s the crime of the century,” Crank says, adding there are “basic questions we ought to ask.”

While Council may feel pressured to press the case to a hearing, and while the Ethics Commission has said the complaint isn’t frivolous, Swan argues the city’s Ethics Code lacks teeth to ding a councilor for such behavior, even if true. Adopted in 2007, the code covers “direct official actions” — those involving a vendor, contract or land-use matter, permits and licenses, hiring and firing and other official acts.

But the code bars even appearances of impropriety, noting, “An appearance of impropriety is created when a covered person will or may take a direct official action that, although not constituting a conflict of interest, will or may create a reasonable perception that the covered person’s ability to carry out his or her official duties with integrity, impartiality, and competency is impaired.”

For her part, Sutherland tells the Indy in an interview, “All I know is, I called the mayor’s office and spoke to the city’s HR department and explained the situation, and they are actually the people who directed me to file a formal ethics complaint, because my story did, in fact, meet the criteria.”

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