At its Sept. 25 regular meeting, the Colorado Springs City Council dismissed an ethics complaint lodged against council President Richard Skorman. The dismissal comes six months after a complaint was filed with the Colorado Springs Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) by Barbara Sutherland on March 27.
Sutherland filed the complaint after Skorman showed up at the scene of a traffic accident involving a personal friend of Skorman’s, Madalyne Mykut, who ran into the rear of Sutherland’s car on March 23.
Sutherland and her husband William told Complete Colorado in an April 18, 2018 article that they felt intimidated by Skorman, saying he attempted to use his position as City Council President to convince them to let Mykut leave the scene of the accident in spite of the fact that Mykut could produce neither identification nor insurance information for the car she was driving.
On August 31, the IEC handed down its decision. The report was kept confidential by the city and was discussed by the council in executive session Monday, Sept. 24 and scheduled for a decision at the regular meeting of the council on Tuesday, Sept. 25.
At that meeting no public input was allowed, and the contents of the IEC report were not released to the public prior to the meeting.
At Tuesday’s meeting the council voted to release the IEC report. Ted Skroback, Communications Specialist for the city told Complete Colorado that the document “won’t be made available on the website, but people can feel free to reach out to City Communications to obtain a copy.” The full report is available here.
A copy of the report obtained by Complete Colorado says that by a unanimous vote of all five members of the IEC, Skorman did violate the city’s code of ethics.
“Mr. Skorman repeatedly inserted his official capacity with the City into his interaction with the Sutherlands, which is sufficient to meet the requirement that he was in his official capacity at the time of the conversation,” says the report. “The only reason Mr. Skorman used his position with the City to identify himself was to give his arguments on Ms. Mykut’s behalf more credibility and force.”
This, combined with Skorman’s personal interest in assisting Mykut, says the IEC, shows that Skorman’s intervention was a “special consideration” not available to every other individual in similar circumstances.
“Mr. Skorman does not show up at accidents involving drivers without identification to ask the other party to let them leave. It was something Mr. Skorman did because of his personal relationship with Ms. Mykut.”
These two factors persuaded the IEC that “Mr. Skorman did commit violation of the Code of Ethics.” But the IEC also said there were significant mitigating factors. “This was not an instance where Mr. Skorman premeditatedly sought to benefit from his position with the City. Rather, he was frustrated at how the situation unfolded,” says the report. The Commission also noted that Skorman issued a public apology during an interview with Fox News after the incident.
Ultimately the IEC recommended an oral reprimand.
But Tuesday the City Council voted 5 to 3 to dismiss the complaint, with Skorman recusing himself and Councilmembers Avila, Bennet, Gaebler, Geislinger and Murray voting for and Councilmembers Knight, Pico and Strand voting against.
After voting 6-2 to release the IEC report, Councilman Bill Murry kicked things off by offering a motion to dismiss the complaint on the basis of “insufficient evidence, no substantial likelihood of success, and in the interests of justice” that was seconded by Councilman Yolanda Avila.
This resulted in parliamentary wrangling over competing motions and amendments and discussion of concerns by some councilmembers that more information was needed and that questions should be sent back to the IEC. Murray eventually withdrew the motion but restated it at the end of the discussion. It was seconded again by Avila.
Councilman Jill Gaebler said “We are jockeying over the minutia of a couple of words here and there. We have all of the information we need before us.”
The main dispute among council members revolved around whether Skorman identifying himself as President of the City Council and requesting that Sutherland trust him and allow Mykut to leave violated the letter of the ethics ordinance.
Murray said, “Identifying himself, now it’s become an ethics violation.”
Avila said, “I don’t see this as a violation of the ethics code. It was to vouch for her.”
Councilman Andy Pico said, “I do not support dismissal. Five members of the IEC all came to the same conclusion. It’s not a huge thing to burn down the buildings over, but I cannot ignore that, I think there are grounds there.
Strand and Knight were both concerned about public perception and how voting to dismiss the complaint in the face of a unanimous decision by the IEC might be seen as self-serving and as disrespecting the work of IEC volunteers.
Strand said, “We were told that we need to do everything we can for this community to ensure that people in the community believe that we are ethically as pure as we can possibly be.”
Knight said of dismissing the complaint in the face of a unanimous ruling of the IEC, “I can see the headlines now, ‘council protects one of its own.’”
UPDATE: Barbra Sutherland sent a statement to Complete Colorado late Thursday evening excerpted here. “I am incredibly disappointed with the outcome of my filing,” Sutherland writes. “The Ethics Committee’s purpose is to allow citizens to voice their concerns about political officials, and to be heard by a group of unbiased peers. If City Council can just disregard the Committee’s findings and recommendation, then really, what is the point?”