Denver City Council Breaks With Ethics Experts, Allows Large Gifts Within The Family

<p>(<a href="">Flickr</a> user Kevin Galens/CC)</p>
<p>The Denver City and County Building.</p>
Photo: Denver City And County Building (Flickr)
The Denver City and County Building.

In a final vote, Denver City Council opted to allow gift giving and exchanges of expensive items from other city departments to elected officials, a move the city’s own Board of Ethics and outside ethics experts have criticized.

Under the amendment, introduced by City Councilman Kevin Flynn, city agencies and employees have been explicitly removed from the definition of a donor under the ethics code. That means expensive business class flights provided by the airport can continue.

Elected officials and top mayoral staff, however, will have to report the items on a new form.

Ethics advocates at Colorado Common Cause urged the city council to not go forward with this change. The Denver Board of Ethics wrote a letter to Councilman Flynn asking him to pull his bill. Flynn stood by his change to the ethics code, arguing that a city can’t give to itself, that these exchanges are merely city business.

A CPR News investigation found it is common for Denver International Airport, a city department, to fly city council business class. Fact-finding trips were arranged sometimes before key city council votes on airport contracts. The tickets alone cost more than $10,000 in some cases.

The expensive tickets are allowed under airport travel policy. Flynn said he is now working on an amendment to deal with that, to create travel rules “that would be more conservative.” He noted it will be up to the mayor to enact his own rules for his office that would restrict extravagant travel.

This all started when the Board of Ethics issued an opinion in late 2017 that stated there are instances when giving between departments can cause undue influence of elected officials. The Board found that those gifts should be subject to the same reporting and restrictions that outside gifts are. The board rejected attempts by the Denver council and the mayor’s office to change their opinion.