Minturn mayor faces ethics investigation
MINTURN ” Mayor Gordon “Hawkeye” Flaherty defended his friend Jim Hoza and Hoza’s property, but could now be in legal trouble.
The Minturn Town Council has voted 4-1 to pursue a criminal complaint against Flaherty for allegedly breaking town law by defending Hoza at an Aug. 11 municipal court hearing.
The hearing was scheduled to review effort to clean-up Hoza’s lot, which is vacant, in some disarray and has drawn complaints from some residents.
The hearing was the latest attempt in the last two years by Minturn officials to clean up Hoza’s property. Hoza and neighbors said the lot has undergone some cleaning.
“(Hoza) could have done a better job tidying up, but a lot of us in town could do a better job,” said Harry Gray, owner of Harry’s Bump and Grind, a coffee shop next to Hoza’s lot on Main Street.
At the Aug. 17 Town Council meeting, Town Attorney Allen Christensen told council members that Flaherty may have violated town law by counseling Hoza.
“It’s very clear and I think we’ve got an issue here of credibility of government when you’ve got officials appearing before government bodies trying to influence the outcome,” Christensen said.
But some feel Flaherty’s stance is noble and the issue, overblown.
“Hawkeye is helping out because he’s his buddy,” Gray said. “I’m proud to have a mayor who will stand up and be a friend. This is bad for Jimmy, bad for Hawkeye and an embarrassment for Minturn.”
The next step, Christensen said, is an investigation. The case will be turned over to another attorney because Christensen said he would be a witness.
Flaherty refused to comment directly on his involvement with Hoza because of the pending investigation. However, he said he appeared at the court date to “get both sides of the story at once.”
Neighbors said the property has been a bit of an eyesore since Hoza’s house burned down in 2002, but none were vehement in opposition to the clutter.
A garage adorned with a basketball hoop remains at the site. Tuesday afternoon four vehicles, a pile of lumber, boulders, a snowmobile and grill sat on the property in plain view from Main Street. By Wednesday some of the items were loaded onto a trailer. A for-sale sign hung from a fence facing the street.
Hoza, who some sources said now lives in Fort Collins, could not be reached for comment.
According to a tape of the Aug. 11 court hearing:
– Flaherty commented on the case and counseled Hoza to ask certain questions.
– Christensen asked the court that Flaherty testify rather than comment openly. The town attorney also asked the court to advise the mayor that he cannot appear on behalf of a citizen.
– Flaherty continued to comment on the case, and Hoza asked that he testify.
– Christensen referred Judge Terrence Quinn to Minturn law, which reads a town officer cannot appear on behalf of any private person.
“This law says because you’re the mayor ” I guess because it wouldn’t look right ” you can’t testify on behalf of Mr. Hoza,” Quinn said to Flaherty.
– Despite an attempt by Quinn to silence Flaherty, the mayor continued to comment on the case.
However, at the Aug. 17 meeting, Flaherty told the council that Quinn said it would be proper for him to advise council. “But I may have advised (Hoza) out loud more than I should have,” Flaherty said.
Christensen said Flaherty was aware of the code of ethics prior to appearing with Hoza. The attorney said he tried to avoid the situation by asking councilman Darell Wegert to intercede, but Wegert could not attend the court hearing.
The matter came before the council after police Chief Lorenzo Martinez, Town Manager Ann Capela and Christensen agreed Flaherty may have violated town law.
That law states, “Town officers or town employees shall not appear on behalf of any private person, business or entity … before the town council, any town board or the municipal court.”
Christensen told the council they could take no action, investigate or pursue civil or criminal action. Every council member present voted against Flaherty, except Wegert.
Wegert refused to say Tuesday why he voted against the measure because the council’s discussion took place behind closed doors. The meeting was later reopened for the official vote.
Other members were fairly forthcoming.
“We had an ethics issue that needs to be researched,” Councilman George Brodin said. “Based upon what I heard I thought it should be looked at.”
Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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