Ethics commission looks at trip by Eagle officials
EAGLE — The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission will investigate a trip to Florida made by two members of the Eagle Town Board last fall to determine if their actions violated Amendment 41 of the state Constitution.
On Friday, the commission deemed complaints filed against Eagle Mayor Yuri Kostick and Eagle Town Board member Doug Seabury as “non-frivolous” and notified both men that the issues outlined in an official complaint filed by Mike Stevens, of Eagle, will be formally investigated.
The subject of investigation is a Oct. 29 through Nov. 1 Florida trip Kostick and Seabury took with Seabury’s business associate Scott Scholsser to meet with Alan Cohen. Cohen is the owner and developer of the Haymeadow property in Eagle, a 660-acre parcel located just south of the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink. Haymeadow is approved for a 837-unit residential development. Scholsser is the newly designated local contact for the Haymeadow project.
Prior to the trip, the pair did not inform other town board members or town staff that they were headed to Florida to meet with Cohen. After news of the trip became public knowledge, the Eagle Town Board released a written statement on Nov. 17 addressing the issue, particularly because the $2,380 airfare cost represents a violation of Amendment 41. Amendment 41 prohibits town officials or staff from accepting gifts, including travel costs, in excess of $50.
Initially the town board said they would be paying the $2,380 as part of the December bills approval, but it reversed that decision after closer reading of Amendment 41. The board noted reimbursing Cohen for the costs associated with the trip would violate the Independent Ethics Commission Position Statement on travel and travel reimbursement. Kostick and Seabury subsequently said they would pay the airfare costs themselves, indicating they did so on Dec. 15.
As for other costs associated with the trip, Kostick and Seabury have said there were no other trip expenses because they stayed at a guest house on Cohen’s property, where they also dined during the stay.
Neither Kostick or Seabury responded to a request for comment regarding the commission’s decision.
‘Mistakes in procedure’
Back in December, Kostick released a statement about the Florida trip which said, “On Oct. 17, I was contacted by the owner of the Haymeadow Property, Alan Cohen. He informed me that there was a change in his local representation and that Ric Newman had concluded his work for the project. In addition, he expressed his desire to better understand how his approved development was going to move forward into a construction phase.
“On Oct. 29, Doug Seabury and I flew to Florida to meet with Mr. Cohen at his request to discuss the future of the Haymeadow development. When we returned, Trustee Seabury and I met with Trustee Andy Jessen and Trustee Kevin Brubeck in separate meetings and also immediately contacted our town attorney and notified the town board and met with town staff.
“We both have come to understand that we made mistakes in procedure and sincerely apologize for any distraction and additional time and attention that our actions have brought to the town board and to the citizens of Eagle.”
The meetings referenced by Kostick in the statement represent a violation of Colorado’s Sunshine Law which prohibits private meetings including more than three town board members.
When contacted Monday, the author of the complaint said his concerns about accountability prompted his decision to take the issue to the ethics commission.
“There were a lot of people out there concerned about the things that were going on and not during anything about it,” said Stevens. “Something just didn’t feel right about what had happened and it was just a lack of accountability that concerned me.”
With the declaration from the independent ethics commission that the complaints filed against Kostick and Seabury are non-frivolous, the issue has been referred to the commission staff for investigation and a subsequent hearing. The date of that hearing is not yet set and a copy of the commission’s staff investigative report shall be provided to Kostick, Seabury and Stevens at least 10 business days before the hearing date. Prior to its disclosure, the report shall remain confidential.
An examination of the independent ethics commission website shows that most of the formal complaints filed are deemed frivolous or dismissed because of jurisdiction issues or both. Of the 24 complaints filed in 2014, for example, nine were dismissed as frivolous and four were dismissed for jurisdiction issues. Seven complaints were dismissed as both frivolous and for jurisdiction issues. Two complaints were dismissed as untimely and two complaints were stayed.
In conducting the investigation, commission staff can subpoena witness and documents that have bearing on the case.
As the subjects of a complaint, Kostick and Seabury have the right to file a response and the right to be represented by counsel of their choice. They will have 30 days from the date of the official letter from the independent ethics commission to file a response.
A public hearing will be held, either before the independent ethics commission or before a hearing officer, to deliver a decision on factual, ethical or legal issues. At the hearing, the complaint can be dismissed or upheld and according to the ethics commission website, “Hearings on complaints will be set as soon as practicable.”
After the investigation and hearing is completed, if the complaint is upheld the independent ethics commission can require Kostick and Seabury to pay back double the amount of any travel expenses associated with the Florida trip that are deemed inappropriate under the provisions of Amendment 41.