Politics, Sherrie Peif, Weld County

Weld Commissioner Julie Cozad responds to ethics complaint

GREELEY – Weld County Commissioner Chairwoman Julie Cozad has formally responded to allegations she violated Article XXIX of the Colorado Constitution by receiving a gift in excess of $59.

On Sept. 29, the Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) deemed a complaint filed by Johnstown resident Ellen DeLorenzo non-frivolous. The commissioners voted 3-1 in the matter, with one commissioner recused from the vote for unknown reasons.

When Complete Colorado originally reported the investigation, Cozad would only say she planned to respond.

“I did not hide from Ms. DeLorenzo’s complaint,” Cozad says in her response, “but addressed it in a very public way, multiple times, and I openly posted on my Facebook page what happened right away, and over 40 people commented that they appreciated my transparency on the issue.”

The IEC is charged with investigating and handing down penalties against state and local officials. It is a five-member, non-partisan board, with one member appointed by each the governor, the State House of Representatives, the State Senate, and the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. The fifth member is appointed by the other four.

It was created after Colorado voters passed an amendment to the state constitution calling for its creation.

In the 10 years since, 187 complaints have been filed, 27 – including Cozad – have been deemed non-frivolous, or 14.4 percent.

IEC investigations become public once they are deemed non-frivolous. At that time, the elected official has 30 days to respond. The IEC staff is charged with investigating the matter and then turning over its finding to both sides prior to a prehearing. There will also be a public hearing before final determination is made.

Cozad faces fines up to about $9,500 and public admonishment. Her response does not indicate she is being represented by an attorney. Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker confirmed that he will not represent her in the matter.

Based on past complaints, the complete process usually takes four to six months to complete.

According to her response, which is dated Oct. 11, Cozad makes several claims, including that Weld County officials are not subject to Article XXIX.

In Dec. 2016, the IEC ruled that the IEC has jurisdiction over home rule municipalities unless they have exceeded the state law in their own code or charter. Specifically the IEC said: “in order to be considered as having addressed the matters set forth in Article XXIX, a home rule entity must have adopted a charter, ordinance or resolution that addresses the matters covered by Article XXIX including:

  1. A gift ban indicating that no covered individual shall accept or receive any money, forbearance, or forgiveness of indebtedness from any person, without such person receiving lawful consideration of equal or greater value in return from the covered individual who accepted or received the money, forbearance or forgiveness of indebtedness.
  2. A gift ban indicating that no covered individual, either directly or indirectly as the beneficiary of a gift or thing of value given to such person’s spouse or dependent child, shall solicit, accept or receive any gift or other thing of value having either a fair market value or aggregate actual cost greater than fifty dollars ($50) in any calendar year, including but not limited to, gifts, loans, rewards, promises or negotiations of future employment, favors or services, honoraria, travel, entertainment, or special discounts, from a person, without the person receiving lawful consideration of equal or greater value in return from the covered individual who solicited, accepted or received the gift or other thing of value.
  3. The home rule entity’s gift ban may include the exceptions contained in Article XXIX, § 3(3), together with exceptions recognized by the Independent Ethics Commission. If a home rule entity were to adopt exceptions in addition to those listed above, the home rule entity will bear the burden of demonstrating how such additional exceptions are consistent with the purposes and findings set forth in § 1 of Article XXIX.
  4. An adjustment of the fifty dollar ($50) gift ban limit that generally is equivalent to and coincides with the adjustment made by the Commission every four years. There is a presumption that the constitutional limit is acceptable. If a home rule entity were to adopt a gift ban amount above the constitutional limit, the home rule entity will bear the burden of demonstrating how such gift ban amount is consistent with the purposes and findings set forth in § 1 of Article XXIX.
  5. An independent commission, with provisions governing manner of appointment and manner of succession.
  6. A complaint, investigative, and enforcement process.
  7. A penalty provision indicating that any covered individual who breaches the public trust for private gain and any person or entity inducing such breach shall be liable to the local jurisdiction for double the amount of the financial equivalent of any benefits obtained by such actions. The manner of recovery and additional penalties may be provided by law.
  8. A process for covered individuals to seek ethical guidance is encouraged.

By ruling the complaint non-frivolous, the IEC determined that neither Weld’s charter or its code specifically address the gift ban issue in according to state requirements.

Barker did not explicitly say Weld County would not challenge the IEC decision to take on jurisdiction, but implied the county would not be getting involved.

“Why would Weld County challenge the jurisdiction?” Barker said.

Cozad made several other arguments including:

  • There was no conflict of interest.
  • There was no violation of the gift ban.
  • There was no ex parte communications or unethical behavior.

She also argued that at the time of the Gala she had no idea Nobel was coming before the board with a land use case.

“I followed the rules and acted in an ethical manner,” Cozad wrote in her response. “It is important to me that I do things with integrity. I understand, that as an elected official, that we need to make sure that we do things in an open and transparent way.”

Her complete response is here.

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