Ethics Commission Doubles Staff, Starts to Investigate Complaints

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

One of the benefits of creating the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) as an independent commission, not subject to control by the governor or the legislature, is that the IEC is not bound by the governor's hiring freeze order. As a gesture of goodwill during economic hard times, the IEC had voluntarily chosen not to fill a second staff position that was funded in the state's 2010 budget. That changes today, as the IEC welcomes Doug Platt, formerly the Director of Government and Public Relations for the Department of Personnel and Administration, as its second staff member. Mr. Platt will assume some of the many duties currently handled by IEC Executive Director Jane Feldman. The staffing level of Colorado's ethics commission is still significantly below other states - for example, the Arkansas Ethics Commission employs nine full time staff - but Mr. Platt's arrival is cause for hope that the IEC will be able to more effectively investigate complaints in the future.

One of Colorado Ethics Watch's criticisms of the IEC's handling of its complaint against former Secretary of State Mike Coffman was the IEC's failure to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to investigate the facts of the complaint before holding a hearing (and barring Ethics Watch from engaging in discovery). In the time since, Ethics Watch has engaged in a constructive dialogue with the IEC regarding much needed changes to its procedural rules, with strong emphasis on the IEC's obligation to investigate complaints. These efforts appear close to fruition, as commission members have stated at meetings that the IEC hopes to open a formal process to change its rules early in 2010. The addition of a second staff member is a signal that the IEC intends to be proactive about investigating complaints in the future.

A possible preview of the new IEC approach can be seen in its handling of the second complaint that the IEC has found substantial enough to proceed to a hearing. At yesterday's meeting of the IEC, the Commissioners voted unanimously (with one absent) to set a hearing in the spring of 2010 on a complaint filed by a Larimer County resident against the manager of a local storm water district. Although the hearing will be conducted under the existing rules of procedure, in this case the IEC conducted its own independent investigation of the facts of this case and is considering ways to have the results of that investigation presented at the hearing. This is a very positive development and should please Coloradans who created the IEC to function as the leading state ethics enforcement body.