Basalt Town Council decides it will not change conflict-of-interest rule
September 15, 2012
BASALT – The Basalt Town Council has ditched plans to alter the way members handle potential conflicts of interest, town attorney Tom Smith said Wednesday.
The council met in a closed session at Town Hall starting at 8:40 p.m. Tuesday and hashed out whether to pursue an ordinance that would have allowed a member with a potential conflict to take his or her case to the public and other council members. Under the proposal, the board member with a possible conflict could have opted to air circumstances to the public. Members of the public would have had a chance to comment on the possible conflict, and then the remainder of the Town Council would vote on whether their colleague should participate in a matter or opt for recusal.
The proposal appeared unique in Colorado, according to Smith, town managers outside of Basalt and an staff member at an association for municipal governments.
The council discussed the matter for about 80 minutes behind closed doors. Smith said the seven members reached a unanimous conclusion that “it probably didn’t make sense to change the procedure.”
The ordinance was jettisoned, in large part, because it threatened to “politicize” the procedure by allowing the public to weigh in, Smith said. Most members of the public aren’t familiar with the town’s definition of a conflict of interest so it would either require lengthy explanation before public comment could be taken on a member’s status or it would have led to a process that wasn’t based on legal criteria, according to Smith.
The process could also be politicized by asking the other six members of the council to vote to determine whether a colleague should participate in the review or recuse himself of herself, Smith said.
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Council members had concerns that the debate over the participation of a member with a possible conflict could overshadow the review of a development project or another matter in front of the council, he said.
Current procedure requires a member of the council to identify his or her conflict, then determine whether or not they would participate in the review of a matter. Often a member of the council reaches a conclusion after consulting with Smith.
The council decided in the closed session that a council member with a possible conflict is the best person to determine the course of action, Smith said. The board members decided they could always consult informally with other board members, he said.
The council did direct Smith to compare Basalt’s conflict of interest rules to the state rule. Smith said he recalled they are “very largely the same.” The state statute appeared to be the blueprint for the town’s conflict ordinance, he said.
If the council believes the differences are significant, it could amend the local conflict rules, according to Smith.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt declined comment on the discussion in the executive discussion and said all council members agreed to have Smith be the sole speaker on the issue.
The idea of changing the rules arose in the council’s retreat earlier this summer. Councilwoman Karin Teague said she raised the issue because Basalt’s rules seem more “strict” than state rules. In addition, she wants to participate in the review and vote on the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park redevelopment. Her husband, architect Harry Teague, worked on the project as a consultant to the owner and developer. Karin Teague has recused herself, on Smith’s recommendation, from reviewing the project thus far.
Councilman Glenn Rappaport has also recused himself from review of the Pan and Fork. Rappaport, an architect, advised the Pan and Fork owners about land-use issues before it came before the council for review. In a Feb. 29 letter to the editor Rappaport indicated his course of action is clear.
“Because of my involvement, I have recused myself from voting on the project as a member of the Basalt Town Council – this is standard procedure for public servants whose private sector work comes up for review,” Rappaport wrote.
In other council action at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday, a new upvalley-bound bus station on Highway 82 at El Jebel was approved 6-1. The new and improved bus station will be for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s (RFTA) bus rapid transit system, an expansion of the current service. Councilman Rob Leavitt voted against the station because he said there are too many outstanding issues.
RFTA is seeking approval for a 90-space parking lot in El Jebel in a separate application. Basalt didn’t have the authority to rule on the parking lot as part of this application, but it will have the final say on the issue at a later meeting.