Colorado Springs Councilman Donelson censured for ‘false accusations of unethical behavior’ against fellow councilmembers

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
City Hall in Colorado Springs.

Colorado Springs City Council on Tuesday officially censured Councilman Dave Donelson for comments he made a week prior, saying he acted in a way that constituted a breach of decorum. This, as a crowd supporting Donelson filled city hall, many jeering and carrying signs. One read "SAVE DAVE!" while another person wore an American flag-themed cowboy hat.

The decision came after last week's public hearing related to the proposed and controversial Arrowswest development on the northwest side of the city. Donelson asked three council members to recuse themselves from the vote because of a perceived conflict of interest with Weidner Property Management, the development’s parent company. 

“Three members here at the dias have received $2,500 from Weidner in their campaign for this office,” said Donelson. “I think they should at least address that.”

Campaign finance records from the city show four sitting councilmembers–Michelle Talarico, Lynette Crow-Iverson, Brian Risley, and David Leinweber–did receive donations from Weidner Property Management. However, according to the city charter, a campaign contribution "could not be considered a bribe or a means of improper influence on a direct official action." City attorney Ben Bollinger reminded the council of that when Donelson made the statements.

At Donelson’s request, councilmembers said one by one that they had no conflicts of interest. It's standard procedure in some cases, but members of the council objected to this request.

Courtesy Dave Donelson
Dave Donelson in his 2021 campaign photo.

“I don't think this has a place here,” said Councilwoman Michelle Talarico.

After hearing presentations for and against the original measure, council voted unanimously to postpone the public hearing until July 9, to allow more time to research the property’s current zoning. 

Council members expressed their frustration with Donelson after the vote, when Council President Randy Helms brought the matter back up. 

“If you don't like what we do, then vote us out…[This] is an impugnment by a fellow council member and I’m really not appreciating it,” said Councilwoman Nancy Henjum.

“I am deeply offended that you would bring this up," Talarico said, "and that you would make accusations that you know how I or anybody on this council is going to vote.”

On Tuesday, during the censure hearing, the council decided Donelson’s comments undermined the integrity of his fellow councilmembers. 

Councilman Risley questioned the timing of Donelson's statements. 

“Last Tuesday’s comments were made that question the integrity, credibility, and trust of council,” said Risley. “This was done in retaliation for not supporting a building height limit the day before.”

Donelson said his comments were not accusatory, rather he was simply pointing out an apparent conflict of interest.

“I did not impugn anyone's integrity. I did not accuse anyone of anything,” said Donelson. “I simply and politely asked three council members to recuse themselves from the hearing.” 

President Helms asked the council to forgive Donelson and vote against the censure. 

“My goal is to bring us back together and I think taking the high road today on this issue is a first step,” Helms said.

When asked to apologize for his comments, Donelson said he would be happy to speak with fellow council members, but he would not do so during a public hearing to censure him.

The council voted to censure Donelson and remove him from committees by a 6-2 verdict, with Donelson and Helms voting in opposition. Donelson will be removed from his committees, including the El Paso County Board of Public Health.

The censure is a formal reprimand. Donelson will maintain his ability to vote as a City Council member. 

KRCC's Andrea Chalfin contributed to this report.