Investigation into recall complaint could cost $3,000-$4,000, Fort Collins official says

Posted: July 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

BY ROBERT MOORE • RobertMoore@coloradoan.com • July 2, 2010

The city of Fort Collins estimates it will pay $3,000 to $4,000 for an outside counsel to investigate an allegation that campaign spending laws were violated by organizers of an unsuccessful effort to recall City Council member Lisa Poppaw.

The city hired Englewood lawyer Scotty Krob this week as a special council to conduct the investigation because it stemmed from a recall effort against a City Council member.

A violation of the city’s campaign finance ordinance is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and 180 days in jail. Deputy City Manager Diane Jones said the city has an obligation to enforce its laws.

“We’re responsible to enforce our ordinances and so on, and we’re responsible to follow up. What we’re trying to do is avoid any appearances of bias or partiality,” she said.

Jones said it was her understanding that the city unsuccessfully tried to get another city to handle the investigation. Fort Collins has intergovernmental agreements with Boulder, Greeley and Loveland that allow for partners to pick up investigations for the other city at no cost, if the other city has available time and resources.

The complaint was filed June 10 by the Denver watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch, seeking an investigation into whether recall organizers Stacy Lynne and Rudy Zitti violated a city provision that requires issue committees to register with the city before accepting contributions.

The watchdog group cited a posting on the website of Lynne’s organization, We Will Not Fall, which offered to pay people for gathering petition signatures in the recall effort.

Lynne, who couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Friday, has previously said her organization didn’t violate city campaign laws in its efforts.

The organizers never turned in any petition signatures by the June 18 deadline. They had alleged that Poppaw violated her oath of office by supporting
sustainability initiatives that generally were supported unanimously by the council.

CEW’s director, Luis Toro, said the city must investigate potential campaign finance violations, even if it’s sometimes expensive.

“It’s hard to put a price tag on clean government. The point of the law is to make sure the election process in Fort Collins is conducted in an above-board way,” he said. “That’s a hard thing to put in terms of dollars and cents.”

CEW is officially nonpartisan, but its website’s list of complaints it has filed since 2006 shows that it has almost exclusively filed ethics and campaign finance complaints against Republican candidates and conservative groups.

Lynne and Zitti have been active in tea party and 9-12 group rallies over the past year. Lynne frequently speaks at City Council meetings to criticize city officials and policies.

Jones said the investigation was not related to Lynne’s criticism of the city.

“We’re trying to do our duty and our responsibility, and in a way that is as impartial and as objective as possible,” she said.

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