McCabe may take part in hotel review
April 23, 2003
City Councilman Tom McCabe said he is reconsidering his recent decision to recuse himself from the review of a major hotel project after receiving an election endorsement from the Aspen Skiing Co.
The Residences at the Little Nell is scheduled for a public hearing Monday before what it appeared would be just three members of the council after both McCabe and Councilman Tony Hershey declined to review the application.
Hershey, who works part time for the Aspen Skiing Co., was correct to recuse himself, according to City Attorney John Worcester, but McCabe has no such obvious conflict of interest, he said.
The Skico has been identified as the potential manager of the proposed timeshare hotel, though it is not the applicant seeking the project’s approval. But when news of the Skico’s endorsement of McCabe, Hershey and Mayor Helen Klanderud in a letter to its employees became public, Councilman Terry Paulson urged the council to put the hotel review off until after the election.
The Skico endorsements created the perception of a conflict of interest for the trio, who are seeking re-election, Paulson argued. McCabe decided to “err on the side of caution” and recuse himself, while Klanderud said she could judge the project fairly and refused to step down.
“I think Tom was overly cautious in recusing himself,” said Worcester, who was out of town when various ethical questions rose to the fore last week.
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“My suggestion would be to Tom on Monday night, unless he feels he can’t be impartial and fair, he has an obligation to participate,” Worcester said. “Under our city charter, council members have an obligation to vote on all matters that come before them except when they have a substantial, personal or financial interest. An endorsement is not a personal or a financial interest, much less a substantial interest.”
If an endorsement automatically compromised a council member, anyone with business before the council could force members out at their pleasure, simply by endorsing them, Worcester added.
“I’m thinking of jumping back in,” McCabe said Tuesday. “Mr. Worcester has raised my comfort level significantly.”
If the Skico endorsement means a council member is potentially biased in the project’s favor, McCabe reasoned, the company’s decision not to endorse Paulson could leave him equally biased against the proposal. Paulson is challenging Klanderud in the mayor’s race.
Council qualms over the Skico endorsement wasn’t the only ethical question candidates were wrestling with last week.
McCabe and Hershey both conceded they should have disclosed campaign contributions they received from individuals associated with the Obermeyer Place redevelopment before voting to approve it.
Both councilmen said later they meant to make mention of the contributions during the council meeting, but forgot to do so.
Their failure to do so did not violate the city charter or any provisions of the new city code of ethics, which will go to the council for approval next week, according to Worcester. Disclosing the contributions at the meeting would have been a good idea, but there was no obligation to do so, he said.
Candidates for office do disclose contributions on reports that are due regularly during the course of a campaign, Worcester noted.
“It gets disclosed. They’re not keeping it a secret.”
The $250 that both McCabe and Hershey received from each of two Obermeyer developers doesn’t constitute a financial interest that would pose a potential conflict of interest, Worcester said.
The council voted to up the cap on individual contributions from $100 to $250 several years ago after plenty of discussion about what would be an appropriate limit, Worcester recalled.
“The major discussion was, what amount would lead the average voter to have a corrupting influence in the political process,” he said.
At that time, council members agreed $250 wasn’t enough to create that perception.