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Mayoral mess

Rivera's troubles come at bad time for the city, but USOC negotiator downplays the mayor's influence

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Winston Churchill once said, "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it."

Lionel Rivera is not so lucky. The ethics complaint dogging the Colorado Springs mayor has spurred a crisis of confidence even as the city is desperate for citizens' trust and support. In the coming months, leaders likely will ask residents to support tax increases, a restart of the U.S. Olympic Committee retention deal and $23.7 million in budget cuts.

All of which has them bemoaning any hint of scandal.

"The fact is, the public trust has been damaged," City Councilor Tom Gallagher says of the mayor's situation. "He should at least say, 'I'm sorry.'"

Councilor Jerry Heimlicher, who has stood by the mayor, says he hopes the whole thing clears up quickly.

"I want the mayor either accused and convicted of doing something wrong," he says, "or I want him exonerated as soon as possible."

As the city's Independent Ethics Commission investigates a complaint against the mayor, the case is already playing out in the media. The widespread conclusion is that Rivera is guilty of having a conflict of interest.

But here's the real information we all have so far: LandCo Equity Partners lawyer John Cook has handed over documentation to the commission that he says proves LandCo's Ray Marshall did have a business relationship with Rivera. Marshall had a personal account with Rivera, vice president of investments locally at UBS Financial Services. Two entities related to Marshall also had accounts with Rivera. But, Cook says, Marshall ended all those relationships in October 2007, and confirming documentation appeared in December 2007.

According to Cook, that means LandCo did nothing wrong when it competed for and was chosen to develop the $53 million USOC deal, signed in March 2008.

The mayor was originally accused of having a conflict of interest by Ron Johnson, president and CEO of Central Bancorp.

It will be a couple weeks before the ethics commission completes even the first leg of its investigation, meaning more information could surface. Any decision will be based on the city's own definition of conflict of interest, which mentions "any personal or financial relationship that could influence" and also any that could "be perceived to influence."

Rivera will likely struggle to overcome the "perception," though Councilors Jerry Heimlicher and Gallagher say it's hard for anyone on Council to pass that test all the time — they all have friendly relationships with local developers. So far, however, the evidence suggests Rivera hasn't realized any gain based on the USOC deal. LandCo's admission implies Rivera didn't have a chance to profit off it, and Jim Didion, the USOC's main negotiator, says Rivera had nothing to do with selecting LandCo.

"The mayor didn't have any input into our decision one way or the other, other than to present the various proposals," Didion says. "So from that perspective ... he did not have influence."

Rivera won't comment on his relationship with LandCo, saying that would violate industry standards and UBS company policy. The UBS Web site confirms that and says penalties for violating confidentiality of clients includes termination of employment.

Rivera does say he still doesn't see a conflict of interest.

"I have recused myself at many times," he says. "I take a good hard look at what the ethics code says, and how I interpret it, and I recuse myself any time I think there could be a conflict of interest."

stanley@csindy.com

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