Denver Direct: Ethics panel sees conflict of interest in parks board

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ethics panel sees conflict of interest in parks board

The Denver Board of Ethics
finds that James T. Allen of
Denver Public Schools and Parks and Recreation Manager Lauri Dannemiller
had a “minor” conflict of interest at the December meeting of the Parks and
Recreation Board.  The board also
concludes that “the
infraction does not appear to have been malicious.”

Allen is the DPS appointee to
the Parks Advisory Board and the DPS Director of Bond Construction.
  He continued to sit at the Board table during
discussions of removing designation from part of Hentzell Park Natural
  The conflict of interest complaint
alleged that Dannemiller “aided and abetted” Allen’s action.
  Many members of the public believe Allen
played two roles in trying to influence the decision.
The discussion involved Mayor
Michael B. Hancock’s plan to give nine acres of Hentzell Park Natural Area to
DPS for a building site.
  The Parks
Advisory Board voted 11-6 to retain the natural area designation.
  Dannemiller later overturned that ruling and
declared that the land could be de-designated.
Here is the text of the Board
ruling on the conflict of interest complaint:
“The Ethics Board concludes that
Mr. Allen complied with the primary requirements of Section 2-61(f) of the Code
of Ethics by disclosing his interest and by abstaining from acting or voting
thereon (see Section 2-52(b): “A person who abstains from a vote is not
exercising direct official action”). Therefore the only remaining question is
whether Mr. Allen attempted to influence the decisions of others under Section
2-61(f) by answering questions of Advisory Board members during the meeting.
This third aspect of Section 2-61(f) is less clear and particularly difficult
to apply in this case, where the Advisory Board member is the appointed
representative of a third-party, DPS, under the Charter.
“Although Mr. Allen did not expressly comment on or give an
opinion on the de-designation or speak on the motion to affirm the designation,
the Ethics Board concludes that Mr. Allen’s comments about the design of the
school and the need for the school were reasonably viewed by some Board members
and by some opponents of the de-designation as crossing the line and becoming
an indirect attempt to support the de-designation. Once Mr. Allen was allowed
to answer questions, it was not possible to keep the school design issues
separate from the de-designation and land swap questions. At the December
meeting Mr. Allen became the implied spokesperson for the DPS positions on the
de-designation since the other DPS representatives who spoke at the November
meeting were not present.
“The Ethics Board finds and concludes that Mr. Allen’s
responses to Board questions and his attempts to answer other questions were
implied attempts to influence his fellow Board members in violation of Section
2-61(f) of the Code of Ethics, and resulted in an appearance of impropriety.
However, the Board concludes that there is no reason for a public hearing.
There was a violation but the violation was on balance a minor violation under
Section 2-56(6)(c) of the Code. The reasons include, but are not limited to,
the following:

● In relation to this Advisory
Board, Mr. Allen has an interest in DPS matters only by virtue of his role as
the appointed representative of DPS. He did not negotiate or propose the land
exchange deal or the de-designation and did not have a personal financial
interest in the land exchange. There were many presentations and written
submissions by DPS spokespersons other than Mr. Allen.

            ● Mr.
Allen’s answers to questions of Board members did not appear to have any actual
impact on the Board’s vote, which was overwhelmingly against de-designation of
the natural area.

● The complainant alleges that Mr.
Allen’s “mere presence in the room” was an unfair attempt to influence other
Board members; however, there is nothing in the Code requiring a Board member
with a conflict to leave the room entirely.

● The complaint implies that a
Board member should never be allowed to give a presentation to a Board of which
he or she is a member; however, Section 2-61(a) (5) of the Code assumes that
such situations will arise.

● The primary mission of the Parks
Advisory Board is to represent diverse viewpoints and opinions of the
community, and Mr. Allen’s position is unique; he is expressly appointed to
represent the viewpoint of DPS. The Ethics Board’s ruling in this case is thus
not a precedent for any other boards.

“With respect to the complaint concerning Lauri Dannemiller,
the Board concludes that the same analysis can apply to this complaint, for the
same reasons. Allowing Mr. Allen to answer questions on behalf of DPS, although
apparently attempted by Ms. Dannemiller as a “compromise,” regrettably did not
play out well, but this was not clearly predictable in advance. The Board adds
that the infraction does not appear to have been malicious but was more a
function of the heat of the meeting. The Board of Ethics recommends to Ms.
Dannemiller and the Advisory Board that this type of “compromise” position,
allowing the DPS Board member to abstain yet sit with the Board and answer
questions for DPS, should not be attempted again in future.”
Ethics Board Chair Leslie Lawson signed the report.  Assistant City Attorney Helen Berkman,
assigned to Denver International Airport, conducted the
investigation.  (Berkman reports to the
City Attorney who is appointed by Hancock.) 
Ethics Board Staff Director Michael Henry did not participate in the
investigation.  Henry has an affiliation
with some of the neighborhood groups opposing the land swap.