Just as one former city councilor is off the hook with the ethics commission and getting his legal expenses picked up by taxpayers, a new councilor has been charged with conflict of interest and must face the commission.
Taxpayers are covering the legal expenses for former Colorado Springs council member Tim Leigh, whose bill crested $12,000 to fight the ethics violation charge leveled against him last year by David Neumann, president and chairman of Neumann Systems Group.
City Council voted 5-2 Aug. 27 to reimburse Leigh for $12,773 in attorney fees. It was $2,773 more than the cap the council had set just a few months earlier as the most the city would pay to cover attorney fees racked up when a city councilor has to defend him or herself in an ethics violation charge.
Council member Merv Bennett recused himself from the vote because he is friends with Leigh’s attorney Louie Larimer. Council member Andy Pico recused himself because an ethics charge has been filed against him and he could soon find himself asking the city to cover his legal expenses.
Leigh was not present at the council meeting but Larimer was there to explain why the city should cover the attorney fees.
“The ethics case was complex as a result of Mr. Neumann’s numerous allegations set forth in multiple sequential letters to the city,” Larimer said. “Each allegation had to be discerned and analyzed and dealt with separately.”
In Leigh’s case, there were nearly 20 memos and letters exchanged between Larimer, whose going rate is $275 an hour, and the city attorney. In November, Neumann accused Leigh of violating the city’s code of ethics. Neumann Systems Group has a $73.5 million contract with Colorado Springs Utilities to install its emissions scrubbing system at the Martin Drake power plant. Neumann said Leigh repeatedly made false statements about his company and his emissions scrubbing technology, which damaged the company’s reputation, its ability to obtain financing and its future business prospects.
In April, Leigh lost his bid for reelection. However, the ethics commission, which met for the first time on this issue in January, continued its investigation.
In May, the council made changes to the city code of ethics. Among the changes was a $10,000 cap the council set as the most it would pay to cover legal expenses of a city councilor. Anyone seeking more than the $10,000 would have to make a plea to council.
In July, the ethics commission ruled that Leigh had not violated the city’s ethics code and the city council agreed.
Council member Jill Gaebler didn’t think Larimer made the case for the extra $2,773. She and council member Don Knight voted “no” against the city paying those fees.
Council member Joel Miller supported the expenditure saying “It’s the right thing to do.” Council members Keith King, Jan Martin, Val Snider and Don Knight agreed.
Meanwhile, just three months after the “freshman six” council members were seated, councilor Pico finds himself the subject of an ethics complaint. In June, former council member Bill Guman filed an ethics complaint against Pico, who is employed by Serco, the company with which the city is currently negotiating its fleet management contract. Guman said Pico’s employement with the company is a conflict of interest.
Guman was accused in 1993 of a conflict of interest when his company successfully bid on a city contract before he was elected. After he was seated, he was forbidden to bid on city contracts and the city rewrote its city code of ethics. Guman said Pico, under the code of ethics, has a conflict of interest every time he votes on a city budget that includes the Serco contract.
Pico said he will recuse himself from any votes on the Serco fleet management program. He said he does not work in the fleet division but in the command and control system division.
“The fundamental difference is (Guman) owned the company,” Pico said. “I don’t own Serco. I won’t make a fraction of a penny off what they do in the Springs. I don’t even own stock.”
The ethics commission has recieved Guman’s complaint. There has been no action so far.