Ethics complaint alleges Department of Natural Resources leader benefited from agency contract with wife’s employer

December 21, 2021
State Natural Resources Director Dan Gibbs out in the field with his Grizzly Creek fire crew.State Natural Resources Director Dan Gibbs out in the field with his Grizzly Creek fire crew.Courtesy of Dan Gibbs
State Natural Resources Director Dan Gibbs out in the field with his Grizzly Creek fire crew.

A recent complaint alleges that Dan Gibbs, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, violated the state’s ethics law when a division of his agency did business with his wife’s then-employer.

The complaint was filed by former district attorney George Brauchler, a Republican, on behalf of Defend Colorado, a new political group that has so far filed three ethics complaints against Democratic officials. It contends that Gibbs wrongfully allowed a division of his agency to award a $496,000 contract to Keystone Policy Center, which employed Johanna Raquet Gibbs, his wife. Gibbs was appointed by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.

“You can’t be doing contracts with your spouse’s or your family member’s businesses to put their money in their pocket and thus benefit you,” Brauchler said.

Megan Castle, a spokesperson for DNR, said that Gibbs had no involvement in the contract.

“It was Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) that entered into the contract with Keystone Center after a rigorous independent process to select a consultant to conduct public outreach for the voter-approved wolf restoration project, adhering to all statutory requirements and the rules under the Colorado procurement code. Dan had no involvement in this contract selection process,” Castle wrote.

The contract awarded to Keystone was for public engagement related to the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado.

Johanna Gibbs was a senior policy director for Keystone, which lists about two dozen staff on its website. Her work focused on “public health and preparedness, emerging technologies, and leadership development,” according to the company’s website. She left the company in June, a spokesperson said.

Keystone was the second-lowest bidder for the contract, according to documents in Brauchler’s complaint. The company bid about a half-million dollars for the work, while another competitor said they could do it for $274,000. (Two other companies bid higher.)

The contract bidding process was managed by a panel of CPW employees, who said in notes that they were impressed by the detail in Keystone’s proposal and the company’s experience working on the Western Slope. But Brauchler contends that awarding a contract to the employer of a leader’s spouse would only be excusable if the company was the lowest bidder.

Keystone has done business with DNR since 2014 or earlier, according to state financial records. Brauchler also contends that Dan Gibbs failed to disclose the potential connection with his spouse’s work in ethics documents filed in 2020 and 2021. 

The ethics forms ask whether someone’s family members work for a company that might, “reasonably be expected to have business dealings with your department/agency in the coming year.” Gibbs marked “No,” according to records provided in the complaint.

Brauchler acknowledged that Gibbs’ signature may not be on the Keystone contract, but argued he should have done more due diligence to divulge and avoid conflicts of interest.

“This is like being the captain of the ship — somebody downstream does something wrong, you’re on the hook for it,” he said.

Castle of DNR said that Gibbs, “is committed to the highest level of ethical and fiscal stewardship,” and said that it was, “unfortunate that the independent ethics commission is being used this way.”

Editor's note: This article was updated on Dec. 21 to reflect that Johanna Raquet Gibbs ended her employment at Keystone Policy Center in June 2021.

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