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Gallagher blasts back

City Councilman accused of ethics breach, conflict of interest

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City Councilman Tom Gallagher
  • City Councilman Tom Gallagher

City Councilman Tom Gallagher fired back this week at colleagues who have accused him of violating the city's code of ethics and of having a possible conflict of interest in a controversial proposed water pipeline project.

The first shot came last week in the feud between Gallagher, who says he wants the city to consider cheaper options to a planned $1 billion water project, and other council members.

The city's daily newspaper, reportedly acting on cue from former staff writer and now City Councilwoman Margaret Radford, published a story questioning Gallagher's motives in the water pipeline debate. Radford has claimed much of the credit for pushing the proposed Southern Delivery System, a pipeline that would pump water to Colorado Springs from Pueblo, and for a pair of contentious agreements with Pueblo that traded some of Colorado Springs' water rights to that city in return for Pueblo's OK of the SDS project.

Talking out of order

The story, which ran in last week's Gazette, said that Gallagher has been "pushing the council to consider a water project that would financially benefit a company for which he works."

Gallagher maintains that he has merely asked the city, which owns the public utility, to consider alternatives to SDS -- including one that he said would save Colorado Springs Utilities customers more than $500 million.

Despite the headline "Gallagher's Conflict of Interest?" the Gazette story claimed: "Other council members stopped short of calling Gallagher's actions a conflict of interest, but admitted they could be perceived that way."

At an informal City Council work session Monday, Councilman Randy Purvis called for city attorney Patricia Kelly to investigate whether Gallagher violated city code ethics rules by speaking publicly about alternatives to the SDS pipeline plan.

The alternative being questioned is known as the 115 Project, which would create a pipeline from the Arkansas River to Colorado Springs along Highway 115. An expanded Brush Hollow Reservoir, near Penrose, would be used as a main storage facility, along with a pair of quarries along its proposed route.

The land around Brush Hollow is owned by developers Mark and Jim Morley. Gallagher, a surveyor, works for ESI Inc., a surveying company owned by the Morley family.

At Monday's meeting, Purvis criticized Gallagher for publicly discussing the Highway 115 plan. Purvis maintained the topic had only previously been discussed during secret closed-doors meeting, known as executive sessions. Council members are prohibited from divulging details from such discussions.

City Councilman Randy Purvis
  • City Councilman Randy Purvis

Serving two masters

This Tuesday, Gallagher defended himself. The 115 Project, he pointed out, has been in consideration for at least 20 years and is mentioned in dozens of public documents.

"After careful review of the article in last Thursday's Gazette I find nothing in it that was not public information," Gallagher said. "Executive sessions are limited to discussing negotiations and personnel issues, not public information.

"I will discuss public information with the public at any time. If I ever feel the need to conceal public information, I would expect the people of this community demand my immediate resignation. I would expect that of anybody serving in public office. It's our obligation to give free and unfettered access to public information."

Reached at his law office, Purvis said: "My concern is that Mr. Gallagher is promoting a water project that will benefit his employer and not benefit the city. No one can serve two masters. To build the Brush Hollow project would require the city buy property from his employer."

Asked whether the council should consider Gallagher's claim that a cheaper alternative could work, Purvis said: "Saving $500 million is not the point. The point is he's representing both sides."

Gallagher says the current council has never given the Highway 115 plan more than a glance. For his part, Purvis, who previously served in the council in the 1990s, said the city looked at the 115 pipeline proposal "25 years ago and again 10 years ago and rejected it both times."

Asked why the plan was rejected, Purvis said, "I don't know. I'd have to go back and look at the file. But the point is, the council has decided by an 8-1 vote to go with the project (SDS) that we're pursuing."

Taking a look at the option

The city's code of ethics says, "Elected officials and appointees should not hold financial interests that conflict with the conscientious performance of duty." It also says, "Elected officials and appointees should take appropriate steps to avoid an appearance of loss of impartiality in the performance of their official duties."

This week, Gallagher maintained that he would not personally profit from the 115 Project. He maintained that he has repeatedly told his council colleagues that if the alternative ever came to a council vote, he would recuse himself from voting.

"This is an effort to kill the exploration of alternatives to the Southern Delivery System," he said. "It is an avoidance of our fiduciary obligation to the citizens of Colorado Springs to not only provide water for them but to provide that service in a manner that doesn't cripple the economic base of the community."

Gallagher said he only wants the council to "take a legitimate look" at the Highway115 plan.

On Tuesday, city attorney Kelly said she would have a report on the alleged code of ethics violations in two or three weeks. Depending on the outcome, the council could take action against Gallagher ranging from a reprimand to a call for his resignation.

Rich Tosches

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