Horse Gulch Blog

Watchdogging for the greater Durango area

10 Nov 2015

Blogger defends free speech rights of City Councilors and their families with letter to Durango’s Board of “Ethics”

Posted by Adam Howell


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Hello Mary Beth Miles,

Michael Todt, a member of the “Ethics” Advisory Board, agreed with the Board’s advice to limit the free speech rights of City Councilors who may want to endorse a candidate during an election for the La Plata Electric Association Board of Directors.

Please forward the following response to the “Ethics” Advisory Board regarding their recent advice to City Councilors who want to publicly endorse an LPEA candidate, or have a family member that’s wanting to serve on a municipal board.

I get the impression that the Board is advising City Councilors to avoid endorsing any LPEA candidates because of a perceived conflict of interest caused by a Franchise Agreement that the City has with LPEA.

From my perspective, when City Councilors get elected into office, they do not waive their First Amendment right to freedom of speech, and it is far from the authority of the “Ethics” Advisory Board to be telling City Councilors to avoid exercising this constitutional right.

Furthermore, any official action that the Board takes against a City Councilor that chooses to endorse an LPEA candidate will open themselves and the City of Durango to a potential civil lawsuit where any political or financial damages caused by such capriciousness could be rectified at the discretion of a judge.

Secondly, I get the impression that the Board has also asked City Councilor Dick White’s wife to avoid serving on a municipal board in order to avoid some ill-founded perception of nepotism occurring.

It is my understanding that nepotism is an act of favoring relatives, especially by giving them jobs. None of the municipal board positions are paid, however, and secondly, a conflict of interest could be avoided by asking the City Councilor, whose family member has applied for a position, to abstain from voting on the appointment when the situation arises.

I would think that these concerns could be mitigated without restricting City Councilor’s right to freedom of speech or without restricting the family members of City Councilors from serving on a municipal board.

Until then, the advice and recommendations of the “Ethics” Advisory Board in these situations leaves me questioning the integrity and credibility of this organization whose purpose is to promote ethical practices in government.

Sincerely,

Adam Howell

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