Mayor’s race centers on conflict of interest issue |

Mayor’s race centers on conflict of interest issue

ASPEN ” Mayor Mick Ireland did not have a conflict of interest when he agreed to let voters decide whether the Aspen Art Museum should negotiate with city officials to buy public land despite his niece last year receiving a $5,000 scholarship from the nonprofit, according to Aspen City Attorney John Worcester.

The possible conflict of interest has become a campaign issue, raised by mayoral candidate Marilyn Marks, who is running against Ireland for the two-year term. The issue was elevated last week when Marks took out a full page ad in The Aspen Times, claiming Ireland violated the city’s code of ethics.

Worcester said Marks is incorrect when she stated in the ad that Katie Bird, Ireland’s niece, is an immediate family member and therefore Ireland should have recused himself from the AAM vote.

Worcester said the city charter requires council members to vote on every matter that comes before them unless they or their immediate family members have a substantial personal or financial interest, including the receipt of gifts. Barring no conflicts, if elected officials don’t vote, they can be considered guilty of misconduct of office, Worcester said.

As defined by the ethics code, an immediate family member includes husband, wife, son, daughter, mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, grandchildren, brother, sister and domestic partner.

“… I concluded that you did not need to recuse yourself and could properly vote on the motion to refer the art museum question to the voters,” Worcester wrote to Ireland and City Council members in an April 9 memo outlining his opinion.

Marks argues that the scholarship financially benefited Ireland’s sister, Molly Ireland, because her daughter received the scholarship, which Marks interprets as a gift.

Worcester notes that the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission, which provides guidance on ethics issues relating to the state constitution, opines that scholarships are not gifts because a public official has no legal obligation to pay for a college education.

Marks argues that the scholarship was likely taxable compensation and therefore a gift.

She also argues that the issue is about avoiding a conflict or an appearance of a conflict, which the public may perceive as affecting Ireland’s objectivity. Marks said she simply is raising the question of whether Ireland should have recused himself on the AAM vote.

“I don’t think that anyone would want to see Katie deprived of the scholarship,” Marks wrote in an e-mail to The Aspen Times. “But a strict reading of the rule unfortunately would suggest that she couldn’t take advantage of it. However, once it was given, I believe the practical way for Mick to have dealt with the conflict would have been to recuse himself from all negotiations, meetings, hearings, votes with the museum. This entire question would not have to be dealt with.”

Ireland said full disclosure was made by Molly Ireland that her daughter had received the scholarship during a City Council work session on March 9 when elected officials considered the AMM vote.

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