County: Dorothea Farris not guilty of ‘conflict’
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
ASPEN ” Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris is not guilty of a conflict of interest for outspokenly expressing her famously-strong opinions at a recent Crystal River Caucus meeting, Farris’ fellow commissioners decided Wednesday.
The commissioners, after absolving her of a set of accusations, clearly endorsed the idea that being an elected official does not mean giving up one’s right to free thought and speech.
“She occasionally gets into a little trouble with her emotionality,” noted Board of County Commissioners Chairman Jack Hatfield with a smile, “but that’s Dorothea, and we wouldn’t want Dorothea to be any other way.” Hatfield also obliquely urged the Crystal River Caucus to refrain from further pursuing its campaign against the commissioner.
Farris, who represents the Crystal River region on the board, said nothing during the discussion of the accusations leveled by some of her critics in the caucus, which were aired at the end of the Board of County Commissioners’ regular meeting.
According to a letter from caucus members Philip Gaylord, Raymond Pojman, Bob Dupre and Tom McBrayer, all from either Carbondale or Redstone, Farris had violated four separate provisions of the county’s home rule charter, codes and policies when she expressed an opinion concerning a proposed caucus resolution at a caucus meeting on April 24.
The resolution, according to the letter, called on the county to permit only “restricted access to Filoha Meadows,” a controversial piece of county-owned open space near Redstone. The county was planning until recently to build a bicycling and pedestrian path through the property as part of a countywide trail, a plan hotly opposed by some caucus members.
Farris, after declaring to the assembly that “I am commenting on this as a resident, not as a county commissioner,” read from a prepared statement about the issue under discussion.
While the letter did not detail Farris’ remarks, it did state that she “used her official position as a Pitkin County Commissioner to prosper [sic] a personal agenda concerning an issue that is currently pending and proposed before Crystal River Caucus and the Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners.”
Furthermore, the letter continued, “Public officials are the stewards of the public trust and must present an unbiased and unprejudiced position when they represent matters of government to their constituents … Commissioner Farris’ emotional presentation of a personal position, regardless of its sincerity, exuded a significant bias and the prejudice of the influence of her statements cannot be denied.”
The signers of the petition asked that Farris recuse herself from any future discussions and votes involving Filoha Meadows while her “conflict” is examined, first by commissioners and, if the signers of the petition are not satisfied with their decision in the matter, by a “conflict committee” that commissioners appoint.
The letter also suggested commissioners “impose sanctions” on Farris fr her conduct, while maintaining that “the signatories of this complaint are not seeking retaliation, retribution or punishment.”
The board, after discussing the letter, voted to approve a “determination” drawn up by County Attorney John Ely, which ruled that there was no conflict of interest indicated by Farris’ actions and statements.
Hatfield, reading from Ely’s three-page “determination,” declared that “opinions expressed by commissioners regarding matters of public concern to not evidence a bias that would prohibit participation in a public hearing to take action based upon facts presented at such a hearing.”
Ely’s memo concluded that “Pitkin County citizens expect their public officials to be informed and intelligent citizens. Presuming that county commissioners must remove themselves from a public dialogue on issues concerning our citizens would only foster isolation of elected officials from the citizens they serve.”
Hatfield, speaking directly to the caucus, implored, “Please, let’s try to get along” and “move the interests of the caucus away from what at times seem to be personal matters.”
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Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday expressed support for imposing a tax on cigarettes and tobacco products in the county similar one enacted by the city of Aspen two years ago.