Paying consulting fees to ex-staffers sparks objection |

Paying consulting fees to ex-staffers sparks objection

John Colson

A local citizen adviser to Aspen and Pitkin County has suggested local governments prohibit recently resigned public workers from signing up for lucrative government consulting contracts.

Bob Helmus, who sits on the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Board, made the suggestion to the City Council at its Monday brown-bag luncheon.

Noting that several members of the joint city-county Community Development Department have left recently, Helmus suggested a “grace period” during which an ex-employee could not work as a consultant for the government.

Or, if that is too strict, he suggested that all such consulting contracts be limited to no more than 20 percent above what the employee was making when working as a government staffer.

“I don’t want to see the city get raped,” Helmus told the council, explaining that when an employee leaves government service while working on, say, the review of a large project, the government agency involved is suddenly bereft of that employee’s knowledge and familiarity with the project.

Under such circumstances, Helmus said, it is not unusual for the government to then hire the same employee at a vastly increased rate of pay, because “[it] really leaves that department in a bind.”

Aspen and Pitkin County have a long history of hiring people for a variety of jobs, ranging from planners to attorneys to law enforcement, and then having those employees quit after a period of time to go into business for themselves as private contractors and consultants.

“I think Bob makes a good point,” said City Manager Amy Margerum. But, she added, an outright prohibition might not be in the government’s best interests.

“I think the management issue is how much you pay them,” Margerum said. “You need that expertise sometimes for a bridge.”

She maintained that this “revolving door” of government workers shifting into the private sector is “not as lucrative as it may appear” for all of those who do it, but conceded that the matter should be looked into.

An example, Margerum said, is the recent departure of planner Mitch Haas. Margerum said city planning director Julie Ann Woods has not yet decided whether or not to hire Haas as a consultant on the city’s review of the complicated Aspen Mountain PUD project, on which Haas had been working before he quit.

Margerum noted there is a regulation in the city’s codes that prohibits a former employee from any “representation … regarding matters for which a former employee was officially responsible,” for a period of six months, which covers the employee representing a developer in taking a project through the city’s review process.

On a different, note, Councilman Terry Paulson said it can be good for the city’s budget to farm work out to contractors, because it reduces the need for full-time staff members.

Mayor Rachel Richards directed the staff to look into the matter and report back to the council.

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