COLORADO SPRINGS–Colorado Springs officials responding to a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request from SpringsTaxpayers.com asking to see some city legal bills initially tried to withhold public information, but later reversed course and provided the requested information.
The records request was related to a 2018 ethics investigation of City Councilmember Richard Skorman around his interference with a traffic accident.
The invoices from the law firm that represented Skorman in the ethics investigation initially came in with all information about the specific services provided blacked out. Only the dollar amounts were visible.
The April 15, 2019 email accompanying the CORA information, sent in the morning, is not signed and is attributed only to “City of Colorado Springs Communications Office” said, “The redactions within the invoices are for the City’s outside counsel legal representation details of work product and are protected under the attorney client privilege.”
Later in the day, the city re-sent the documents, saying, “After further review, the City is releasing the invoices requested. The outside counsel was not representing the City.”
On March 21, 2018 Skorman injected himself into a minor traffic accident involving Madalyne Mykut, a personal friend of Skorman’s, and Barb Sutherland, a Colorado Springs resident.
Mykut, who has a long history of traffic and driver’s license violations and accidents, ran into the rear of Sutherland’s car. During a protracted wait for Colorado Springs police to arrive, Mykut tried to convince Sutherland to let her leave the scene, even offering her $100 to let her leave, says Sutherland.
Skorman showed up unexpectedly, and according to Sutherland began repeatedly bullying her to allow Mykut to leave, saying that he would vouch for her and that he was the president of the city council. Sutherland refused to agree to letting Mykut leave. Police eventually arrived about 4 hours later and Mykut was issued a ticket.
Sutherland filed a complaint about Skorman’s interference with the city’s Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) on March 27, 2018.
After a five-month investigation, the IEC unanimously concluded that “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.”
The Commission recommended that Skorman receive an oral reprimand.
On Sept. 25, 2018 the City Council voted to dismiss the ethics complaint in spite of the IEC’s recommendation.
Sutherland was “incredibly disappointed” with the council’s action. In a Sept. 27, 2018 email to Complete Colorado she said, “If City Council can just disregard the Committee’s (sic) findings and recommendation, then really, what is the point? This whole process was just smoke and mirrors, to give the public the appearance that City Council cares about the citizens of Colorado Springs, when in reality they only care about their own.”
Because of that dismissal Skorman was legally absolved of the ethical violation.
A 2013 resolution by the city council allows reimbursement for legal fees for someone accused of an ethics violation, with a $10,000 limit.
The resolution also says that any “subject party found to have committed a violation of the City’s
Code of Ethics shall be required to reimburse the City for all legal expenses paid by the City for the subject’s defense.”
A $9,845 invoice dated July 6, 2018 from Skorman’s legal team to the city was followed up on July 6, 2018 by an invoice for $2,062.50. A hand-written notation indicates that the city only paid $155 on that invoice for a total reimbursement of $10,000.
Payment of the $10,000 to Lewis Kuhn Swan PC was authorized by Kandi Anthony, the city’s legal administrator and was approved by Deputy City Attorney Thomas Florczak Sept. 15, 2018.
Contacted Wednesday by Complete Colorado Sutherland said that neither Skorman nor Mykut has ever contacted her to offer an apology. Damages to her car amounted to about $5,000, which was paid for by the owner of the car Mykut was driving.
One item on the invoice is an entry dated May 15, 2018 that reads “Prepared for interview of Ms. Avila; interviewed Ms. Avila, held discussion with Mr. Kuhn concerning use of Ms. Avila as a witness or not.”
It is not clear if this refers to Councilmember Yolanda Avila. According to Sutherland, Avila voted to dismiss the IEC complaint against Skorman and also voted to keep the executive session recordings of council discussions of the matter secret. Sutherland asks that if Avila is the person interviewed by Skorman’s lawyers and was a witness of some sort in the incident, why did Avila not recuse herself from the votes.
An attempt to contact Councilmember Avila for comment was unsuccessful as of press time.