Sleazy Dealings Abound Over Independent Ethics Commission’s Unprecedented Power Grab

A couple of well accepted axioms are that bureaucracies endlessly seek to grow and expand and that some of the least ethical of humans naturally gravitate to ethical boards and commissions if for no other reason than to help obscure their own highly unethical conduct in life. Both appeared to be at work in the most recent attempt of the Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) to control home rule cities and others throughout Colorado under Amendment 41 by attacking former Glendale City Councilman Jeff Allen on behalf of owners of Authentic Persian & Oriental Rugs store.

Amendment 41 was the brainchild of Jared Polis before he became a congressman and it was a ballot initiative to the State Constitution imposing draconian limits on gifts by lobbyists and others to elected officials and to restrict certain lobbying for two years. By its express terms it did not apply to home rule cities in Colorado such as Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs and 67 other cities since the Amendment stated it “shall not apply to home rule counties or home rule municipalities that have adopted charters, ordinances or resolutions that address the matters that are covered by this article.”

That is how the IEC has apparently ruled ever since its inception in 2006. But that all changed just before Christmas when the five-member board unanimously claimed jurisdiction over every city in the state.

The new IEC position was almost unanimously condemned by all good government groups in Colorado and even by strong Amendment 41 supporters such as Ethics Watch and Colorado Common Cause.

This is certainly not the first public condemnation of the IEC while under the control of its Chairman William Leone, an attorney, who has been controversial and is considered in some quarters to be highly disreputable. In early 2016 the State Auditor did an audit of the IEC and as stated by the headline in The Colorado Independent, “Audit: Colorado’s Ethics Commission has questionable ethics.” The State Auditor castigated Leone’s IEC saying it engaged in incredible sloppy record keeping and openly violated the state’s open meetings and open records laws. The Auditor could not even determine “whether the IEC consistently followed it rules over time, or properly conducted hearings . . . .” Former Secretary of State Scott Gessler has simply called the IEC — “Corrupt.”

As a result of the audit the Colorado Legislature was aghast at the conduct of IEC and Leone who was a former Acting U.S. Attorney for Colorado, albeit intimately involved in the Alberto Gonzales scandal at the United States Department of Justice in 2006.

When Pat Steadman, State Senator for District 31 (which includes Denver and Glendale), sought to address the ethical lapses of Leone and the IEC including its use of the Attorney General lawyers and not its own, Leone went ballistic. He declared the bill was a “backroom deal” made by an unnamed former commissioner and Ethics Watch and Common Cause. He threatened to sue the legislature and “fight to the death in court,” if necessary. Steadman was incredulous at Leone’s assertion that not even the legislature had the right to pass bills that would in any manner affect the IEC. As one observer noted, “Bill Leone believes he is above the law and the ethics rules apply to everyone but him.” The bill ultimately failed and Leone’s megalomania went unchecked.

But few people knew exactly how out of control Bill Leone was until mid-January. Under Amendment 41 all complaints to it must be kept confidential until it is determined that the IEC has jurisdiction and the complaint is determined to be “non-frivolous.” The IEC illegally leaked to The Denver Post that it had determined that a complaint against Jeff Allen filed by the owners of the Authentic Persian & Oriental Rug store by Russell Kemp of Ireland Stapleton was “non-frivolous.”

The claim proffered was that Allen should not have voted on a unanimously approved city budget because the City, under a law adopted years ago, gives money to the Greater Glendale Chamber of Commerce and Jeff Allen as COO of the Chamber draws a small salary. Under such ludicrous logic no councilman could ever approve any annual budget because under that budget they draw a salary approved years before.

But the key to the decision is what in the world does such a complaint have to do with the IEC under Amendment 41 and its gift/lobbying limitations? Aha! It doesn’t. Amendment 41 has a vague little noticed provision that declares that the IEC has jurisdiction over not only gifts and revolving door lobbying but also “any other standard of conduct or reporting requirement in state law.” Thus under Bill Leone the IEC could go after doctors, lawyers, contractors, or virtually anyone else in the state. Its purported jurisdiction is virtually unlimited according to William Leone.

Moreover, individuals covering IEC meetings and hearings have reported possible skullduggery concerning the Allen case. Last year another ethically dubious establishment character Bernie Buescher (once an appointed Secretary of State but later soundly rejected by voters) was discovered hanging around various meetings although he had no public case or controversy before the IEC. He was engaged in what appeared to be illegal ex parte communications with Leone and Leone’s Executive Director Dino Ioannides. When caught in the act he disclosed that he was representing “rug merchants” in Glendale to get their high-rise built and was hoping to use the IEC to pressure the City Council. Upon review it was discovered that Buescher is “of counsel” to the law firm of Ireland Stapleton which of course represents M.A.K. Investments.

In various IEC minutes Ioannides declared that he has a “conflict of interest” regarding a certain mysterious case which observers believe concerned Jeff Allen. Typical of the lack of ethics of the IEC, Ioannides did not disclose (as required by state law) what was in fact the “conflict of interest.” Did it involve Bernie Buescher and the wealthy rug merchants of Glendale?

Which brings us back to Jeff Allen. He is but a pawn in a massive power game of William Leone. Allen left the City Council years ago and gets only a small salary as a Chamber COO. He has no funds to fight the sick megalomaniac dreams of ethically challenged Bill Leone and his IEC. It will of course bankrupt him.

That is, of course, why Leone picked Allen. If he challenged Mayor Michael Hancock over his 2015 Super Bowl Trip he could expect a major fight on his hands. Leone and the IEC can roll over the corpse of Jeff Allen many times over. He has no ability to fight a cadre of sleazy, unscrupulous lawyers like Bill Leone, Russell Kemp and Bernie Buescher.

It can only be hoped that Glendale and home rule cities throughout Colorado will rise up to take on Bill Leone and his highly unethical Independent Ethics Commission on behalf of Allen. If Allen goes down, he will be only the first of many potential victims of one morally repugnant individual — William Leone.

— Editorial Board

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