Locals Respond To Transparency Problem

Denver has a problem when it comes to city officials disclosing gifts they’ve received from lobbyists and other organizations throughout the year.

As Colorado Confidential reported this morning, it may be over a year before the public is allowed to see information pertaining to freebies members of the Denver City Council have accepted.

Now one local group may look into changing the regulations, and at least one council member wouldn’t have a problem with it.  “Denver’s got a model ethics code and it’s one of the strongest gift codes I think throughout the state, and it’s really a model in terms of what gifts should be reported and how to do that,” says Elena Nunez, with Colorado Common Cause, a local group that examines government transparency issues.

But according to Common Cause, the code also needs a better disclosure system with council members making more frequent reports. The organization may also look at policy changes in the future.

“It seems like where they’re lacking is in the actual disclosure mechanism, because there’s not a good system in place for timely disclosure that the public can access,” Nunez says. “To have a good strong ethics code you need to have the disclosure as well, otherwise the public doesn’t have adequate information about what’s happening.”

More frequent reporting wouldn’t irk Councilwoman Peggy Lehmann from District 4, who said she’d be willing to file more than once a year.

“They’ve just told me to report once a year so I do, but if they wanted to change it and do it earlier that would be OK with me too,” says Lehmann.

Michael Henry, Staff Director of Denver’s Board Of Ethics said that while the board makes the rules concerning gifts, disclosure is handled by the City Clerk’s office.

“The Code Of Ethics regulates what type of gifts can be given to whom in the city. But there’s an entirely separate ordinance, a financial disclosure ordinance, that regulates the reporting by city employees and city officials,” Henry says. “Many cities and states combine those two functions into one office.”

Denver is apparently an exception, although changes may be on the horizon. 

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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