Avon considers firms for ethics investigation
AVON – Candidates hoping to offer an outside opinion on accusations made against council members got a chance to give their pitch to the public Wednesday.
At a special meeting held by the Avon Town Council, four firms laid out the reasons why they’re best equipped to look at questions like Avon’s – which will examine residency concerns and impropriety accusations against councilmembers Chris Evans and Todd Goulding.
“I’ve participated in the kind of issues you’re dealing with right now both as an attorney and as an elected official,” said Kenneth Fellman with Kissinger & Fellman, P.C. out of Denver.
Evans and Goulding didn’t take part in the meeting, but have voiced support of the effort to obtain an outside opinion.
The council intended to select a candidate late Wednesday evening, said Mayor Rich Carroll, with 40 hours work and a fee of $10,000 as a foundation for the service.
The accusations were first leveled against Evans and Goulding in a public meeting at Avon town hall July 31.
Evans and Goulding called the community meeting as private-sector contractors acting as the “owners’ representative” for Wyndham Vacation Resorts, which is developing a parcel of land near Avon Center.
In June, Wyndham hired Avon-based Evans Chaffee Construction Group to be the owners’ representative on the development. Evans is co-owner of Evans-Chaffee Construction Group, where Goulding works as an executive. To former councilmembers Tamra Nottingham Underwood, Kristi Ferraro and Amy Phillips, along with Avon residents Laurie Adler and Joe Walker, Evans-Chaffee Construction’s involvement in the project didn’t sit well.
“The Avon Town Council approved (The Wyndham project) and now Mr. Evans and Mr. Goulding are working on behalf of Wyndham as ‘owners representatives’ … Really?” Walker said at a public meeting earlier this month.
Ted Hunter, the senior vice president of development planning and construction at Wyndham, says the accusations are baseless.
“Wyndham Worldwide globally has a zero tolerance policy toward any improprieties in the performance of any corporate business,” Hunter wrote in response to the allegations. “Wyndham was not involved in discussions for services or business with Evans-Chaffee Construction Group at any time prior to approvals.”
In an interview, Evans and Goulding pointed to the fact that the Wyndham project received unanimous approval from the Avon Town Council in February, so even if they had voted against the development, it still would have passed the council.
“We are certain that the inquiry into these issues will clear Wyndham’s name, as well as those of Chris Evans and Todd Goulding,” Hunter said.
Evans and Goulding’s accusers also point to Avon’s Walgreens project, suggesting that developers Trinity Development Group awarded the bid to Evans-Chaffee Construction Group as a thank you for the project approval.
They say according to the town’s code of ethics, even a perceived conflict of interest constitutes an ethical violation.
“The Walgreens project was approved while Mr. Evans and Mr. Goulding were council members and then the contract was awarded to the company that Mr. Evans and Mr. Goulding work for,” Walker said. “No perceived or real conflict of interest, really?”
Trinity Development Group doesn’t appreciate the suggestion.
“Any suggestion that Evans Chaffee was awarded this project for political reasons is completely false,” Trinity founder Vincent Riggio wrote in a response. “We invited four companies to participate in a very strict and orderly bidding process … (Evans-Chaffee was chosen in 2012) because of their skill, reputation, value, knowledge and being a local company.”
While Evans, Goulding and the rest of the council did review a portion of the Walgreens development in a work session in June of 2011, the actual project was never voted on by the Town Council as it only needed Planning and Zoning Commission approval.
The other main argument Evans’ and Goulding’s eligibility to remain on the town council involves their residency. Both men are Avon homeowners, both were elected in 2010 and since being elected both have rented out their homes, moved their families to neighboring towns and rented out personal places in Avon to fulfill the residency requirement which says you must claim residency in Avon.
Both Evans and Goulding disclosed the change in their living statuses to the council, and a ruling from town attorney Eric Heil said by renting out units in Avon, they still meet the residency requirement.
“After being elected, my family and I purchased half a duplex in Vail and now my family lives in that house,” said Evans. “When the change in my family’s living circumstances came up, I approached the town and said, ‘Here’s what’s going on, am I still eligible to sit on the town council?’ The answer came back yes. But I’d like to go on record saying that if the town council and the town attorney want to revisit this issue and rule in a different fashion, I will immediately turn in my resignation.”
In Goulding’s case, after having a son in 2010, he decided he needed a bigger place than the townhouse he’s owned since the ‘90s. He kept the place and began renting a larger place, still in Avon. That place sold, forcing Goulding out. He says he looked everywhere in Avon, couldn’t find something in his budget, so he went to Edwards.
In June, the council voted 6-0 to grant Goulding a residence exemption for 12 months, as permitted in the town’s bylaws.
“The council did not have one question about it,” Goulding said.
Evans says the accusers who used to be on town council — Phillips, Ferraro and Underwood — are using the residency argument selectively.
“The same residency status was once required of the town manager,” said Evans. “Former manager Larry Brooks lived in Gypsum, so the town rented him a unit in Avon to get around the requirement. They didn’t seem to mind it then.”
Phillips said the town manager and town council positions shouldn’t have the same residency requirements.
“(Larry Brooks) stayed in town most of the time,” said Phillips. “But the difference is he wasn’t an elected official … The town manager has absolutely nothing to do with elected officials.”
Phillips said Heil’s opinion isn’t sufficient.
“(Heil) wanted to give the opinion that was least likely to create a lawsuit,” she said.
Heil said he’s been involved in several situations where a lawsuit was eminent regardless of his legal opinion.
“What is important to me is I give a complete and competent opinion, if somebody wants to sue then they can,” he said.
Heil said he’s confident an independent opinion will uphold his findings.
“Colorado Supreme Court has a very liberal interpretation that if you have a legal residence and you claim that to be your primary residence that’s OK, there’s not some rule that you have to sleep in a bed 183 days of the year,” he said.