The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission dismissed an ethics complaint against Elbert County Commissioner Robert Rowland at its monthly meeting on May 11. The IEC voted 3-2 to dismiss the complaint filed by Colorado Ethics Watch against the …
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The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission dismissed an ethics complaint against Elbert County Commissioner Robert Rowland at its monthly meeting on May 11. The IEC voted 3-2 to dismiss the complaint filed by Colorado Ethics Watch against the Republican District 1 commissioner as frivolous.
Amy DeVan, executive director of the IEC, notified Rowland of the decision in a voicemail on May 12, informing him that he would be receiving no future contact from the IEC regarding this issue.
In an email addressed to members of the media and some county staff, Rowland wrote, “While these radically motivated distractions are a nuisance, and while we respect the different points of view of our rational citizens, this is just another example of a small, angry, destructive wing of this party that instead of offering constructive, positive input to help our county, continues to pursue a very confusing and counter-productive approach to injecting their ideology into the processes here in our county.”
Colorado Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro said the decision surprised him, and he was disappointed that the process had not been more transparent. Toro said that he felt the case against Rowland was stronger than a similar case brought by Ethics Watch against Jefferson County Commissioner Kevin McCasky, who spoke and voted in support of increasing public funds to the Jefferson Economic Council while he was applying for the position of its executive director. In that case, the IEC voted 2-1 that McCasky acted improperly.
“Our track record is pretty strong,” Toro said. “We've put a lot of effort into this, and we strongly disagree that there is anything frivolous about this case. It is the job of the IEC to hold people accountable, and I think the people of Elbert County deserve better.”
According to Toro, Ethics Watch filed the March 2014 complaint on behalf of “concerned Elbert County residents” who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
The complaint to the IEC alleged that Rowland violated state ethics laws on Jan. 16, 2014, when he seconded and later voted in favor of a motion made by then-Commissioner Kurt Schlegel authorizing the Elbert County attorney to represent Rowland's appeal of a $1,000 fine levied against him for violating Colorado campaign finance laws.
In April 2014, the IEC voted unanimously to stay any action on the ethics complaint until the appellate court reached a decision regarding Rowland's appeal of the fine.
The charge against Rowland and subsequent fine for violating Colorado campaign finance laws was brought by Jill Duvall, chairwoman of the Elbert County Democratic Party and Rowland's opponent for the District 1 commissioner's seat in 2012.
Duvall's complaint to the Colorado secretary of state charged that a unanimous vote taken by the Board of County Commissioners — which authorized $15,000 of county funds to hire a consulting firm ahead of the November 2013 election to promote ballot issue 1C, a property tax mill levy increase — violated Colorado campaign finance laws.
The BOCC collectively acknowledged the violation, but Rowland, the only individual commissioner named in the complaint, was ordered by the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts to pay a $1,000 fine/reimbursement to the county, a ruling the appellate court upheld in April 2015.
In a letter to the IEC dated Feb. 24, 2015, Ethics Watch wrote to update the IEC on the status of Rowland's campaign finance case, “and to urge it (the IEC) to lift the stay and proceed to a hearing on this complaint.”
The IEC met in an executive session on May 11 and dismissed the complaint. No further details regarding the proceedings have been made available by the IEC, which is required to maintain confidentiality under the Colorado Constitution.
The Independent Ethics Commission has jurisdiction over all state executive and legislative branch elected officials and employees, and local officials and employees not having home-rule. It is charged with the implementation of Article XXIX of the Colorado Constitution, which addresses the conduct of public officials.
Colorado Ethics watch is a private 501(c)(3) founded in 2006 by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). According to its website, “Ethics Watch executes a comprehensive communications strategy to bring attention to misconduct in public life while also educating the public about ethics, transparency, nonpartisan election administration, and the importance of a strong, independent state and federal judiciary.”
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