Tuesday’s City Council meeting began amicably enough. Wearing western shirts, cowboy hats and blue jeans, Council’s seven male members thereby saluted the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo.
A few minutes after the meeting began, Council President Merv Bennett read a resolution honoring former Mayor Steve Bach for his four years of service as the city’s first strong mayor. Bach was absent, reportedly casting a line over a pristine mountain stream. Mayor John Suthers wasn’t at the meeting either, instead meeting with the Pueblo County commissioners to discuss their concerns about the Southern Delivery System.
Representing the mayor, Chief of Staff Jeff Greene spoke convincingly of a new era of cooperation and mutual respect between mayor and Council.
It seemed that things had changed, that Council and mayor alike would be able to work together for the good of the city — but then came item 13a, “Issuance of formal ethics charges or dismissal of ethics complaint pursuant to Independent Ethics Commission case 2015-01.”
Commenting on a previous agenda item, Collins already had marked her territory. Much as dogs scratch and paw the ground after defecating to advise other dogs of their presence, Collins signaled her contempt for the Ethics Commission, its procedures and its findings.
In a long, incoherent rant, Collins attacked The Gazette, liberals, President Obama and the Federal Reserve. She faulted The Gazette for attacking her, the Federal Reserve for doubling the national debt, liberals for transforming Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago into desolate wastelands, and Obama … well, for being Obama.
When item 13a came to the table, Councilor Keith King made a motion to hold evidentiary hearings on three of the ethics violations cited by the Ethics Commission. Collins bitterly criticized the commission and its report, saying that she gave unsworn testimony, that it was not recorded, that testimony provided by others was mere hearsay and that Douglas Bruce had never intended to avoid paying the city judgment. She characterized the process as a “witch hunt” and a “kangaroo court.”
She also asked that Councilor Jill Gaebler be excluded from participating in any evidentiary hearing, citing a recent Facebook post. Her pleas were ignored, as Council voted 8-0 (with Collins abstaining) to go forward.
The report, describing Collins’ role in a 2014 real estate transaction with TABOR author and former elected official Bruce, deserves a one-word synopsis:
In the report, the commission concluded that Collins committed at least two felonies, as well as knowingly breached her ethical duty to the city.
“By acting as a pass-through owner,” the report states, “Collins violated the law. Under Colorado law, if a person, intending to defraud a creditor, transfers their interest in property subject to a security interest trying to defeat, impair or render the security interest worthless or unenforceable, they have committed criminal fraud. Seller (Douglas Bruce) declared to Collins that the intent of transferring the property to Collins was to prevent the City from collecting Judgment #1. This is a felony. Collins intended to facilitate Seller’s crime, which is also a felony.”
Those are the most damning conclusions of the report. The commission noted discrepancies and misstatements in Collins’ testimony, and pointed out that she put loyalty to a friend and associate above her fiduciary duty to the city. She reportedly said that she felt obliged to do it, because Bruce had helped her get elected to office.
“She’s shameless. She never thinks of the good of the city. She’ll never resign.”
– Jill Gaebler
Commission members struggled between recommending censure or removal from office.
“An elected official who allows a political supporter, in return for their political support, to use them in an attempt to circumvent the law has no place in government,” the report said. “The fact that Collins helped Seller circumvent a debt through felonious means after he announced her political debt to him makes her actions unconscionable.”
Yet the commission recommended censure, because “no criminal prosecutor has accused, arraigned or convicted Collins of any crime, which carries a heavier burden of proof than is required to find an ethical violation.”
As it turns out, Council can only censure or fine, not remove for ethical violations.
“We’re not like appointed officials,” said Gaebler. “The people elect us. You can’t have councilors removing other councilors.”
Kangaroo court or not, Collins has nothing to fear. She won’t be fined, because she didn’t profit by the transaction. In fact, by acting as Bruce’s pass-through, she apparently incurred a substantial tax liability by acquiring the property for “one dollar and other good and valuable considerations” and selling it the next day for $140,000. At the short-term capital gains rate of 39 percent, she’s on the hook for $54,600.
According to the IEC report, when title company employees presented Collins with a 1099 form, Bruce told her that he’d “take care of” any liability.
Censure may be embarrassing, but it won’t influence Collins’ actions.
“She’s shameless,” said Gaebler. “She never thinks of the good of the city. She’ll never resign.”
So what happens if District Attorney Dan May charges Collins with one or more felonies?
The City Charter says, “The council shall be the judge of the election and qualification of its own members and of the grounds for the forfeiture of the office of council member subject to review by the courts in case of contest.” It also says, “The office of mayor or council member shall be forfeited if convicted of a crime which constitutes a felony in the jurisdiction in which it occurred.”
However, it doesn’t appear that mere indictment on felony charges is sufficient grounds to remove a City Council member. Given the law’s delay, Collins could finish her existing term, get re-elected and serve out a second before being convicted.
So Collins isn’t going anywhere. Will her presence damage Council, and make the path forward that much more difficult?
“No,” said one of her colleagues. “She’s irrelevant now.”