January 16, 2017 •
Independent Ethics Commission Puts Municipalities on Notice In Battle Over Gift Rules
The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission recently issued a position statement notifying home-rule municipalities of its intent to consider ethics complaints against local officials and employees if their local ethics codes are less restrictive than state law.
Constitutional Amendment 41, passed by voters in 2006, sets a $59 (adjusted for inflation) gift limit for public officers, legislators, local government officials and government employees as well as for their spouses and dependent children. More than 70 municipalities, however, are designated as home-rule and, therefore, can adopt local ethics rules in lieu of state law. In addition to the opt-out provision, there is also a provision allowing other local governments to adopt stricter ethics rules.
According to the commission, the constitutional provision permitting local governments to enact more stringent rules still applies to those home-rule municipalities choosing to opt out of the state law provisions.
Critics of the position statement, including Colorado Ethics Watch and Colorado Common Cause, believe the commission is misinterpreting Amendment 41; local governments with home-rule powers should be permitted to opt out if they adopt local laws covering the same ground. They dispute any interpretation wherein Amendment 41 simultaneously applies to and does not apply to home-rule municipalities with adopted ethics rules.
City attorneys throughout the state are currently taking no action while the Colorado Municipal League looks at potential legal options.
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