Ritter Accused Of Paralyzing Ethics Commish

Four hours after an ethics watchdog group accused Gov. Bill Ritter of paralyzing Colorado’s still-incomplete Independent Ethics Commission, the governor’s office announced that Nancy E. Friedman has been selected as one of five members to serve on the panel.

Friedman, who works for a business consulting group, is the third person to be appointed to the five-member commission that was a mandate of last November’s voter-approved Amendment 41, calling for stricter standards in ethics in government.

Earlier this spring, the state House of Representatives and Senate each appointed commissioners to the committee, which technically could have begun meeting to review complaints alleging ethical misconduct on July 1. In early July, the governor’s spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said that the governor planned to make his appointment “soon.”

There’s more.On Thursday – more than two months after the committee could have begin meeting – the Colorado-based group Ethics Watch criticized the governor for his failure to act.

“Colorado officials are not being held accountable for conduct that is clearly unethical but doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal offense,” said Chantell Taylor, director of Ethics Watch, in a press release that was issued at 9:50 a.m. “The Governor needs to lead the way in establishing the Independent Ethics Commission created by Amendment 41 to make sure all public officials are held to higher standards.”

Four hours later, at 1:53 p.m., the governor’s office issued its own press release, announcing Friedman as Ritter’s pick for the ethics commission. According to the release, Friedman is currently a managing member of the Lariat Group, a business consulting and training company with an emphasis on business ethics. In addition, from 1977 to 1995, she served in a variety of capacities for the New York City Council, including as chief ethics counsel to the 51-member council and 700 staff members, and as counsel to the Committee on Standards & Ethics, according to the governor’s office.

Dreyer did not immediately return a call seeking clarification as to the timing of the complaint and subsequent announcement.

The new state law specifies that now, Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey will be tasked with making a fourth appointment to the ethics commission. Once those members are in place, they will select a fifth member, which must be a local government official or government employee. The commission will review allegations of ethical lapses within state government, and determine any resulting penalties.

Rob McCallum, media spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Branch, said on Thursday that now that Ritter’s selection has been made, Justice Mullarkey will begin the process “today” to fill the fourth ethics commission slot. The law provides no timeline for how quickly the appointment must be made.

“I know there’s a sense of urgency from the public, however really putting the right people in place is important,” McCallum said.

In late April, the Colorado Senate selected one of its former members, Republican Sally Hopper of Golden, to serve on the ethics commission. And the Colorado House of Representatives selected Roy Wood to one of the slots. Wood is the director of the Center for Civic Ethics at the University of Denver.

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at cdegette@coloradoconfidential.com