Not a casual conversation in Minturn
MINTURN – As mayor of Minturn, Gordon “Hawkeye” Flaherty decided to spend some time earlier this month getting to know developer Bobby Ginn.He visited Ginn’s office in the International Building and then met with the Florida-based builder. They chatted informally about Ginn’s proposal to build 1,400 homes on a private ski hill and golf course on 5,400 acres between Minturn and Red Cliff. They talked about town and their respective family histories, and then took a drive to the area Ginn wants to develop near Bolts Lake. Ginn is expected to ask the town next month to annex the development. Ginn’s development and the growth it will bring, could cause wholesale change to Minturn, a town of 1,100 residents.
If it sounds like Flaherty’s actions were those of a responsible public official, read on. Flaherty’s chat with Ginn constituted what’s known as an “ex parte communication” – or, for the benefit of one party only. It’s illegal in most towns, including Minturn.At a council meeting Wednesday night Flaherty disclosed that the conversation with Ginn took place on May 5. By disclosing the meeting, Flaherty avoids any possible problems with town codes, said Minturn Town Attorney Allen Christenson.”I was under the assumption it was OK,” Flaherty said.Because of his action, the council received a mini-seminar on ethics from their legal adviser. “It’s not improper to talk to people on the street,” Christenson said. “It becomes improper to talk to someone when they have a matter pending before council. The only time you can do it is when you’re sitting as a board.”If improper communication, either verbal or written occurs, the conversation, by town law, must be disclosed by elected officials in a public session.
“The biggest danger is someone coming in and using it against you to prevent you from voting on it,” he said.There’s another danger for elected officials, said Minturn Town Manager Ann Capela, and that’s a lawsuit over a possible conflict of interest caused by illegal communications.”An individual council person would have to hire an attorney to defend himself,” she said. “The town doesn’t cover that.”As the council considers Ginn’s resort, Capela said, they should err on the side of caution, and avoid even the appearance of improper communications.
“As we get into a more intense level of development,” she said, “the town will be under more and more scrutiny.”Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado
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