The Denver City Council, against the advice of ethics watchdogs, has adopted new rules that will allow council members and the mayor to continue receiving gifts both small and pricey — $10,000 plane seats included — from other Denver employees, but will require regular disclosure of those gifts.
In a unanimous block vote that came without any discussion on Monday evening, the council amended its ethics and disclosure rules to require council members and Mayor Michael Hancock and his staff to disclose items of at least $50 in value they receive from city personnel or city agencies outside their own offices.
Denver’s Board of Ethics, an oversight body appointed by the mayor and council, ruled late last year that city agencies could influence council members and the mayor’s office through gifts. Councilman Kevin Flynn said that ruling created “tremendous confusion” because the ethics code was never intended to prohibit intra-city gifting. He introduced the amendment adopted Monday at a June 19 committee meeting, saying it would smooth out this confusion.
On June 22, the Board of Ethics sent Flynn a letter asking him to withdraw his bill and replace it with a new bill that defines what, exactly, constitutes a gift.
That didn’t happen, and the vote Monday closed the case.
But, the board warned in its letter, under the definition in Flynn’s amendment, “a Council member or other City official or officer could accept a gift from a City employee, even where the gift results in unwarranted special influence.”
The board rejects the idea submitted by council members that city officials can ever take gifts from other individuals or agencies within the city because they’re all part of one big bureaucracy.
Essentially, Flynn and others have argued, Denver government is made up of people all working to advance common goals, and thus an offering from one city official to another — whether it comes in the form of a pair of socks or a mug or a business-class plane ticket — isn’t going to corrupt the receiving party in any particular direction.
A $25 plant from Parks and Recreation isn’t going to net that department favoritism from the official getting the plant, council members say, and a free $10,000 airplane seat isn’t going to influence how an official votes with regard to the airport.
The ethics board was joined in opposition to the council’s action by the watchdog group, Colorado Common Cause. In a June council committee meeting, board chairman Jeff Hart said, “Whether it’s accepting business-class tickets from DIA or Bronco tickets or lunches or anything else of value, it creates a conflict of interest from bosses and their subordinates, and [the council] is the boss of sorts of people like (airport CEO) Kim Day and other city departments.
“You do have influence and control over those people, as does the mayor.”
Denver’s airport provided more than $400,000 in mostly business-class plane trips to the council and the mayor’s office between 2013 and 2017.