Council adopts ethics code
Aspen City Council members can still accept free passes to the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, but will continue to return the two passes they typically receive from a local movie theater operator, good for a year’s worth of free movies.They will be guided by a new ethics code, adopted unanimously by the council on Monday. Most of the rules already exist in city ordinances and policies, but have been assembled in one place with the new code, according to John Worcester, city attorney.He has also prepared a manual to be distributed to city employees, council members, and appointees to boards and commissions. It offers examples of ethical dilemmas and how they should be handled.The ethics code addresses things like the disclosure of confidential information, conflicts of interest, acceptance of gifts, use of city-owned assets and serving in dual capacities.It addresses how and when someone affiliated with city government can appear before the council or a board on an issue. Another section addresses when individuals associated with city government can do business with the city and under what circumstances.New in the rules is a provision that prohibits city employees from displaying political campaign material – like wearing a button – while at work.The council also added language that prohibits the acceptance of gifts worth more than $250 from outside the Roaring Fork Valley, unless a council member is receiving something of value in the course of conducting official city business.Gifts like the Food & Wine passes exceed $250 in value, but the community expects their elected representatives to attend such events, Worcester reasoned. The new code sets no value limit on gifts from within the valley.”Aspen being Aspen, everything being so much more expensive here, it’s difficult to come up with a set amount,” he said.Also new in the rules is a provision that council members and members of city boards and commissions should recuse themselves if they or their immediate family members reside at or own property within 300 feet of a site that is the subject of a proceeding before the council or board.”If you live within 300 feet of that property, it’s presumed that you have a conflict,” Worcester said.Councilman Tim Semrau, acting on the new rule later in the evening, recused himself from the discussion on water service to a Shadow Mountain property near his home. He wasn’t sure if he lives more than 300 feet away or not.The council eliminated a proposed prohibition on city employees serving as Pitkin County commissioners. Someone elected to county office probably wouldn’t have time to fulfill their duties as a city employee anyway, Semrau reasoned.Councilman Tom McCabe, serving in his last council meeting before leaving office, complained that the code contains no serious penalties for council members who violate it.”There are no penalties for City Council, absolutely none,” he said. “I believe it’s completely unfair to have an ethics policy that exempts City Council for misbehavior.”The council could vote to censure a member, or seek a court injunction against a member, depending on the nature of the violation, Worcester countered.[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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