The underlying lawsuit that brought the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission and Colorado Ethics Watch to the Colorado Supreme Court has taken another turn – one that will likely land an Elbert County Commissioner in more hot water.
According to documents obtained by The Colorado Independent, Elbert County reimbursed a county commissioner for a $1,000 fine levied against him for campaign finance violations. That appears to fly in the face of the judge’s order that originally assessed the fine.
In December 2013, Elbert County citizen Jill Duvall filed a complaint with the Secretary of State against County Commissioner Robert Rowland and the board of county commissioners. The complaint claimed the board and Rowland used public money to support a 2013 local ballot measure, a violation of the state’s campaign finance laws. All three members of the current board are Republicans. Rowland is also affiliated with the local Tea Party.
In his ruling, Administrative Law Judge Robert N. Spencer said it would not be appropriate to levy a fine against the board of county commissioners, because that fine would be paid for by the taxpayers. That would go against a state law intended to protect taxpayer funds from being misspent, Spencer wrote in his decision.
Spencer did slap Rowland with a $1,000 fine, as “the individual responsible for the improper expenditure.” That fine was to be paid to Elbert County.
In the commission’s April 8, 2015 meeting, Commissioner Kelly Dore offered a resolution that the county would cover any judgments from the Duvall case against three county commissioners, including Rowland. The other two commissioners named in the resolution are no longer in office.
The resolution was first discussed in executive session in order to receive advice from the county’s attorney, Wade Gateley. However, after the session, Gateley said he would not recommend either way how the commissioners should vote, and said he told Rowland that he could get his own attorney.
Rowland and Commissioner Larry Ross both excused themselves from the discussion of the resolution, although Ross later seconded it for a vote. He then excused himself from the vote, as did Rowland.
The resolution passed with Dore being the only vote.
On April 27, a cashier’s check, payable to Elbert County with Rowland identified as the purchaser, was paid to Elbert County. On the same day, Rowland submitted a request for reimbursement from the county for the $1,000 fine, which he received three days later.
Rowland, as chair of the board, signed the check.
According to the Office of Administrative Courts, they don’t have the authority to hold someone in contempt when that person does something that appears to go against a judge’s order. However, a contempt of court citation could be filed in Elbert County District Court.
Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro told The Colorado Independent Thursday they are currently deciding what to do about this newest development. Duvall said she is discussing this with her attorneys but added that she is interested in pursuing the contempt of court case.
The administrative law judge made it very clear taxpayers should not be paying for this, Duvall told The Independent Thursday. “I definitely think he is in contempt of court” and she also said it’s odd that Rowland signed his own reimbursement check.
Duvall ran against Rowland for the Elbert County board in 2012. Rowland won by a better than 2:1 margin in that race.
Elbert County’s board of commissioners has been criticized frequently in the last several years over management style and their inability to get along among themselves and with others, criticisms made by citizens and the county’s employees.
Tim Buchanan, a consultant hired by the board in 2013 to analyze county organization and leadership, issued a report that called the board dysfunctional. The level of dysfunction leads to low employee morale, lack of confidence by county employees in the board, and animosity in county meetings, the report said.
Commissioners don’t work well together, they don’t communicate with the county’s employees and employees work in fear of one commissioner in particular (Ross, who was called a bully in an anonymous survey of county employees).
As to Rowland, the survey said “no single commissioner should be making any decisions outside of the boardroom, or any decisions of a daily operational nature.”
Rowland and Dore did not return calls for comment.
Photo credit: Jeff Ruane, Creative Commons, Flickr.