Avon council sets tighter ethics standards
August 18, 2015
AVON — Two years after charges of impropriety roiled the town's government, the Avon Town Council recently passed a revised, and more strict, code of ethics for council members.
Until the ordinance was passed Avon, like Eagle County and other towns in the valley, adhered to the state of Colorado's ethics laws for elected officials. But, Mayor Jennie Fancher said, residents wanted more.
"There were people in the community who asked us, and who wanted us to have a tougher code," Fancher said. "We listened, and strengthened it."
That ordinance passed on final reading at the council's July 28 meeting on a 6-0 vote. Council member Jake Wolf missed the meeting due to illness. That ordinance will take effect soon.
The new code uses much of the language from the state's ethics laws. In this case, though, business owners who sit on the town council can't do any business with the town.
The state standard is that council members must recuse themselves from voting if they're bidding on a municipal government contract. Contracts can be awarded to sitting council members who submit the low bid in a competitive process.
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NOTTINGHAM PARK PROJECT
That's what happened in 2014, when the town awarded a construction contract for its new stage at Nottingham Park to Evans Chaffee Construction Company. That contract was awarded while company co-owner Chris Evans was a council member. Company employee Todd Goulding was also a council member at the time. Neither man participated in any votes related to the project.
The project was supposed to be complete by the time the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships came to the valley. The facility was largely complete, but costs doubled.
While Fancher said Evans Chaffee did "everything they could do to save the town money," critics said the project shouldn't have gone to the company.
Those critics in 2013 previously questioned Evans Chaffee's award of the construction contract for the new Walgreens store in town — although the construction company bid on the project after it was approved — as well as the construction company being named the owner's representative on a Wyndham Resorts condo project in town. Again, the company bid on that project after it had passed through the town's approval process.
An independent investigation by a town-hired attorney found no evidence of wrongdoing by either Evans or Goulding.
Under the new ethics code, Evans Chaffee would have been prohibited from bidding on the pavilion — or any other town project — during Evans' term of office and six months after. Goulding resigned from the council in mid-2014 and Evans left the council in 2014 as his term expired.
Laurie Adler was one of the most vocal critics of the town's former ethics code. She said the new rules are a step forward, but would have preferred a 12-month ban on doing business with the town after leaving office.
"Council members are not there to make money off the town of Avon," Adler said. "Government service is a privilege."
Bette Todd owns a home in Avon but lives full-time in Greenwood Village, where she's a member of the city council.
Todd said she hadn't had a chance to review the final copy of the town's new code, but she said tightening the state's rules will be a step forward for Avon.
EAGLE'S ETHICAL ISSUE
While Avon residents have been most vocal about ethical issues, Eagle is the only valley town to have drawn the attention of the state's ethics commission.
In May, Eagle Town Board member Doug Seabury and Mayor Yuri Kostick admitted they violated state ethics regulations in October of 2014 when they accepted airfare and lodging from a developer. Both men claimed they were unaware of state regulations when they accepted the trip, and both repaid the costs associated with the trip.
The state board took no further action.
While Wolf missed the final-approval vote on Avon's code, he said he would have voted with the rest of the council to approve it. He's a fan of the new code, he said, with a few reservations.
Wolf, a musician, said he believes he won't be able to accept paying jobs at the park pavilion while in office. That's fine, he said. But, he added, he believes he now can't participate in discussions with concert promoters about bringing acts to the pavilion.
Wolf already recused himself from discussions about the town's new Wednesday night concert series this summer, instead relating his thoughts to Town Manager Virginia Egger in emails. Wolf said all the council members have areas of expertise, and that expertise may not be part of future discussions about town business.
Still, he said, "I'm a fan (of the code) — if we need to change it, we can."
Todd echoed those thoughts, although she said if the code needs to be more strict, then future councils can make those moves.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.