EDITORIAL: City ethics rules naysayers make a bullet-proof case for their dire need in Aurora

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Aurora city lawmakers making the case this week against a new and improved code of ethics for council members were actually instrumental in illustrating why new rules are needed — and soon.

After months of fumbled attempts to address guidelines that provide council accountability and transparency, city lawmakers on Monday took their first crack at a revision created by council members Nicole Johnston and Charlie Richardson.

The proposal is a modest improvement over Aurora’s current lackadaisical ethics rules. Proposed changes focus on reporting and limiting gifts, goodies and junkets provided to city employees and officials.

The reasonable proposed limits were met with scorn.

One part of the ethics plan calls for limiting annual gifts to city lawmakers from paid lobbyists to $75 a year.

“(I) guess we’re not meeting with anybody,” Councilwoman Francoise Bergan told fellow council members at a review of the proposal on Monday. “It’s just too low, I won’t be going anywhere.”

Clearly, Bergan and fellow critics don’t get it. The public doesn’t want them to take money, trips, dinners or any other kind of graft from paid lobbyists. Not at all. Not ever.

The only reason Aurora lawmakers are able to continue pining for swag and graft is because of a loophole in state law, allowing cities like Aurora to write their own ethics laws.

Current city council critics of the Johnston-Richardson measure need to be reminded that Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 41 in 2006.

That critical piece of legislation created real graft limits and transparency. It did it by voter mandate, because state lawmakers refused to create rules or laws to police themselves. That measure, too, was met with scorn and ridicule from state officials. Naysayers said the government would come to a halt and innocent lawmakers and government employees would face farcical trials over tickets to football games.

It never happened. The only thing Amendment 41 has halted are dubious dinners and junkets with paid lobbyists and elected officials and the giant expense accounts those used to generate.

Aurora voters don’t want city council reps meeting with paid lobbyists in restaurants, mountain condos or at Broncos games. Aurora taxpayers have at great expense built a nearly palatial city hall. Each member of city council has personal offices and conference facilities at their disposal. Lawmakers are expected to conduct city business publicly and accountably.

Amendment 41 and the Johnston-Richardson bill have made allowances for the reality of public life. There will be lobbyist functions with “free” coffee or wine. But the will of the people mandates that these functions be limited and noted.

Councilman Bob Roth also scoffed at the ethics bill, saying it could force lawmakers to itemize a swag gift basket if attending a lobbying event that provides one. The easy answer that evades Roth is to decline the graft. The realistic proposal requires accurate accounting of how much paid lobbyists spend on wrangling votes from elected officials.

While the graft accountability part of the ethics bill was important, the measure needs work in ensuring that an independent city ethics panel provide accountability for all ethics rules. In particular are city council private business endeavors that become dangerously entangled with their elected positions.

Roth is an egregious violator of common-sense ethics standards requiring clear separation between personal for-profit enterprises and council positions. The Sentinel has repeatedly criticized Roth for operating a consulting business that on his website boasts the ability to use his elected position to garner influence for paid clients.

This appears on Roth’s website for Roth Collaborative Resources, rcinc.org: “…as an elected official and as a leader on numerous high profile boards and commissions. I have the ability to affect change at the local, state and even federal level… Uniquely poised to work with your team to open doors for new opportunities, I look forward to hear how I can be of service.”

Aurora needs strong ethics regulations to manage lawmakers and city employees unable to handle that job themselves.

City council representatives need to take a long look again at the Johnston-Richardson bill. If it’s gutted or tossed out, voters will have to take the same route they did with Amendment 41 and allow a ballot question to take care of what city lawmakers won’t.