EDITORIAL: Aurora lawmakers create ethical quandary by rushing flawed ethics bill

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Aurora city lawmakers have an urgent ethical problem: the ethics bill they’re considering Monday night to make law.

Inexplicably, the Aurora City Council is rushing to enact a critically deficient ordinance Monday night that focuses on city lawmakers accused of taking graft or violating at least the spirit of a state ethics law. It’s a state law Aurora is currently immune to.

In June, the Sentinel pointed out the vital need for real ethics codes and remedies after a city councilman’s questionable business practices and connections to the massive Gaylord conference center became apparent.

The problem, still not rectified, concerns Councilman Bob Roth.

Roth has sat on the city council since 2011 and spent most of his professional life in commercial construction.

Earlier this year, Roth announced on social media that he was creating his own consulting firm, Roth Collaborative Resources. His website, rcrinc.org, is still teeming with ethical red flags and blatant violations of the spirit of the state ethics law, if not the law itself.

Here’s what The Sentinel warned against this summer.

Among the services Roth says he can provide those in the construction industry are:

“Open doors – With a vast network in the public and private sector, in vertical and horizontal development, we can open doors that have not been available previously; Legislative assistance – Engage civic executives and elected officials on behalf of clients for development projects.”

“Open doors” by tapping a “vast network” in the “public” sector is marginally  suspect. But promising legislative assistance by tapping “elected officials” whom Roth works with in his official capacity as a city councilman and official in the Denver Regional Council of Governments is expressly forbidden, even for two years after Roth leaves office. An elected official offering to sell influence over another elected official is anathema to honest, ethical government. It’s the very reason voters sanctioned Amendment 41.

Roth’s website doesn’t appear to have been changed since that was published several months ago, and there’s been no public discussion of Roth’s intent to sell his influential elected position as he pleases.

Months later, two city lawmakers, council members Marsha Berzins and Charlie Richardson, create a draft ethics law that would do nothing to address the problem presented by Roth, or any other lawmaker who is suspected of similar ethical lapses.

The city bill council members are considering Monday night is barely a shadow of the state law, and essentially addresses only the regulation of accepting gifts. The proposed measure would do nothing to stop lawmakers from using their council positions and influence to drum up personal business as a lobbyist or just outright being on the take.

A second city council ethics bill has been in development by Councilwoman Nicole Johnston for months. That measure is much more comprehensive and rightly addresses ethical problems among city employees as well as lawmakers and top appointed officials.

More importantly, it creates legislation that makes it clear that using an elected office as a commercial for private business to “Engage civic executives and elected officials on behalf of clients for development projects,” is exactly the kind of graft that needs to be stopped.

This issue is far too important to rush. It affects every current and future member of the city council.

This is exactly why Colorado residents had to create their own ethics standards as ballot initiative Amendment 41 in 2006. Lawmakers themselves refused to do it.

It’s easy to argue that Amendment 41 has gone a long way in keeping Colorado government clean and above board, and there’s no compelling argument against ensuring the same ethical safeguards be applied to the Aurora City Council.

City council members should kill the faulty ethics measure on Monday night and make a concerted effort to create a better bill and provide a special public hearing to take comment.

Anything else makes a mockery of the subject of this measure, and the trust Aurora residents bestow on city lawmakers.