Denver City Council adopted a series of changes to the ethics code Monday that, for the first time, puts a monetary cap on the value of meals and event tickets council members and other city officials can accept from people over whom they have decision-making authority.
The previous code used a numerical cap: no more than four gifts of meals or event tickets per city official per year from people over whom he or she had the ability to take direct action, such as the ability to approve a contract. That provision goes all the way back to the administration of Wellington Webb.
It might sound modest until you think about the one free event ticket being a ticket to the Super Bowl.
The ethics code changes adopted Monday were pushed by Councilman Kevin Flynn, who said they’re important to assure the public that city officials — elected and appointed — aren’t benefitting too much from their office.
“It’s not good for public confidence in this body,” he said. “It’s not sufficient that we go to bed knowing in our hearts that we’ve conducted ourselves ethically. It’s important that the people of Denver go to bed knowing that we’ve conducted ourselves ethically.”
Having a monetary cap on gifts to city officials is much more common around the country than the numeric cap that Denver was using — Flynn said he couldn’t find another example like it.
The ethics code applies to elected officials, department heads and city employees and governs how they interact with people over whom they can exercise “direct official action.” That means things like negotiating, approving or enforcing contracts, granting business loans to which the city is a party, enforcing rules and regulations around licenses and permits, selecting or recommending vendors, hiring and firing employees and independent contractors and doing research for or scheduling appointments for someone in their official capacity.
The rules don’t apply to events where the food is available to everyone in attendance, like the snacks at a community meeting or the lunches for a “working lunch” for a task force or committee, and they don’t apply to gifts from immediate family members.
And nothing in the ethics code restricts campaign contributions, which are subject to their own rules.
The new ethics code, which was adopted unanimously, also creates an independent body to establish the list of people who are eligible to be appointed to the Denver Board of Ethics, which is the body that investigates allegations of misconduct. The mayor and City Council still make appointments to the board, but there is more of a buffer than before.