Staggering bill for Election Committee hearings

In my recent “Scrap the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act” I said “The financial cost to the city (special counsel and prosecutor) was in the thousands, while the fines levied were barely in the hundreds.”  Apparently I was being too conservative.  The bill (up to this point) is in a city document that may make your jaw drop, even I was surprised.  Be prepared to be appalled. Continue reading…

Scrap the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act

A version of this ran in the Tuesday December 15, 2009 Longmont Times-Call 

The Longmont City Council has an important decision to make in the near future:  what to do about the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act (LFCPA).  Whatever honeymoon the new council enjoys will probably come to a screeching halt regardless of how they move forward on this.  Inaction is not an option because of their 7-0 vote to end the lawsuit between the city and multiple plaintiffs (including myself) over the LFCPA, and the terms of that probable settlement. Continue reading…

Big increase in city budget for legal services

Recession-induced revenue problems have forced the Longmont City Council, like other fiscally responsible governments across the nation, to trim spending and allow for only tiny increases, if any, in the 2010 budget. In Longmont City Hall, this tightening of the purse strings seems to have hit almost every department except one: that of the City Attorney, which will get a whopping 11 percent increase of $90,797 next year, according to city budget documents. Continue reading…

Longmont Advocate on the 11/17/09 Amy Oliver radio show

Another great big thanks goes out to Amy Oliver (AM1310 KFKA) for asking me to come on to her show to discuss Longmont politics.

We discussed several items, including

  • the ’07, ’08, and ’09 elections
  • Karen Benker
  • Wrongmont
  • Executive Sessions and ensuing Times-Call lawsuit
  • Firestone/LifeBridge annexations litigation
  • The price of activism and free speech
  • Longmont’s Fair Campaign Practice Act

Fissinger billboard issue to be prosecuted

Things are about to go from bad to worse for the Kaye Fissinger campaign.  On Monday October 26, the Longmont Election Committee found in the affirmative for a Preliminary Hearing on the issue of her billboard.  This could be a very costly fine, well in excess of what the campaign has left over from it’s failed run.  This reminds me of when Jack Pommer was fined a huge sum of money and then used contributions to cover it.  And those poor suckers (and none too bright) who thought they were giving money to help him get elected were really just paying future campaign violations.

In case you didn’t see it, and I bet many of you did, here it is (pictured at right).  As you can see it’s fairly large (look at minivan for scale).  They claim it’s 4′ x 8′.  The invoice for this sign also indicates it was black and white.  Some of it is, but not all of it.  It might be hard to tell but the lettering on the bottom has some color to it as well as the top left, which is pretty obvious.

By the way, the initial complaint and response can be found at this link at the City Clerks website.

The response by the campaigns secretary, Charles Hansen, is almost an admission of guilt in a few places.  First off, it seems imperceptible that the printing of the sign you see (and there are two of them attached to the vehicle) cost $7.38.  There also was no shipping fee (the company is in Las Vegas, NV), but there was 56 cents in tax (apparently picked up in Boulder, CO).   There was also an expense of $42.26 at Lowes for the Masonite panels and hardware used to make these signs.  So we’re supposed to believe the total cost for these items was $49.64?  Ludicrous.

But the more damaging information is the apparent ability to do time travel.
Get this timeline:
July 30 – purchase of panels and hardware at Lowes
August 1 – this sign is first seen at the Boulder County Fair Parade
August 25 – “ORDER DATE” and “DATE REQUIRED” on the invoice for the printing of this sign from Mercury LDO Reprographics
August 31 – date given for the Mercury LDO expenditure on the first campaign report
So we’re supposed to believe the sign seen at the parade wasn’t ordered or printed until 24 days AFTER the parade?  There is no proof in the supplied documents in the response that shows the printing was made prior to August 1st (expect it to magically appear now).  Unless, the actual printing for this sign was done earlier and logically (look at the sign again) was much more expensive than $7.38.  But there’s no accounting for that anywhere.
The expense of the vehicle must also be accounted for, there is no other way to transport or display this sign.  It is not “parked..in the regular course of daily activities” as the response says.  The picture you see was taken off the Diagonal Hwy during rush hour for the sole purpose of electioneering.  The vehicle was parked near the railroad tracks and was blocking access to private property.  The van wasn’t just parked, it was strategically placed and the driver was in the vehicle.  While the driver can claim he was volunteering his time, the same might not be said for the transporting and displaying by the vehicle.  No vehicle, no sign viewing.  That expense should be accounted for and was not as an expenditure or in-kind contribution.

Each possible violation carries a fine of $100/day for up to 10 days.  If the Election Committee finds both as being violations of 2.04.207 of the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act, the total fine could be $2,000.  The committee just fined Longmont Leadership Committee and showed no leniency in the fine, sticking to the ordinance.  It will now be seen if they will distribute these fines in a fair and equitable manner.

Of course, the election is now over and as I predicted Kaye Fissinger finished 4th out of 5 candidates, beating out Ed Dloughy who didn’t even campaign.  Seems this traveling billboard may have been a negative as it reminded everyone exactly who and what she was, and they just couldn’t stomach voting for her.

GUEST EDITORIAL: Rich Yale on the Election Committee

Attn: Mayor Roger Lange / Eugene Mei, Esq.
In Re PITBH Tuesday October 28, 2009 testimony of Election Committee Member

Gentlemen,

EC Member Strider Benston’s Report to his Council leaders shattered the
professional code of judicial ethics applicable to persons under color of
office such as Longmont’s Election Commission Quasi-Judicial, i.e.
“Administrative Judges”; With all due respect to Mr. Benston actions, no
matter how well intended severely damaged the credibility and respect for
the EC at the worst possible timing for the City. Although Mr. Benston
surrendered his own ethical right to endorse political candidates and
influence election campaigns with political bias and ideological
intolerance, these restrictions do not limit an EC members’ private comments
on election candidates for public office, but Mr. Benston’s bias-intolerant
remarks recorded at Council’s PITBH are anything but “private remarks”. To
the contrary he used the color of his office to add emphasis to his remarks.

Your attention is invited to the fact that this rule of non political
participation was held to prohibit an incumbent magistrate judge from
publicly endorsing a mayoral candidate in a municipal election because
political endorsements create an appearance of bias. The rule was held
constitutional even under a strict standard of scrutiny, like Longmont City
Council is already under today by a Federal District Judge. See In re
Vincent, 143 N.M. 56, 172 P.2d 605; 2007 NMSC 056.

Until there is a code of conduct the Council has at least two loose cannons
on the EC that put the Council in risk its own strict scrutiny liability
could be expanded by the presiding Federal Judge should it flare into open
controversy with the open strict scrutiny already on LCFPA. Thank you for
your interest and concern for the gravity of the issue raised by the
performance at PITBH, affecting the administration of justice in City
Administrative Justice Process.

A Friend of the City,

Richard Yale

Benker’s complaint costs city hundreds

At the October 26 Election Committee meeting, one of the many complaints that Karen Benker has brought forward was found to be a violation, with a fine of $600.  This was in reference to Longmont Leadership Committee for filing a report of an Independent Expenditure 3 days beyond the 72 hour requirement.

(UPDATED AND MORE ACCURATE INFORMATION BELOW)

So in the first completed action by this committee under the Longmont Fair Campaigns Act the city just netted $600.
Unfortunately, the cost to get that $600 was probably in excess of $1,800!
How’s that?  The special prosecutor they hired specifically to do these cases charges around $200 per hour, but the backup attorney stood in at $190/hour, he was there for 5 hours.  In addition, they also have a special counsel separate from the prosecutor, again hired specifically for this committee.  They charge $185/hour, she was also there for 5 hours, so put that all together and you end up with $1,875 spent to squeeze $600 out of an organization.
So the city just lost $1,275, and this case cost more than triple the amount of the fine leveled.
Brilliant.  And this case could have gone either way, imagine if no fine was leveled!
So when you people who have been very vocal about the City Council having no empathy for your financial situation – levying new taxes, I mean fees – now you have a poster child for it.  Karen Benker.  I expect she’ll be crowing about this “victory” (nevermind most of her other complaints, and those of her surrogates are getting tossed out by the Election Committee) and has no problem with the special prosecutor and special counsel she voted for being the only ones to actually make any money out of her hissy fit.  Meanwhile, us taxpayers pick up the tab.

Election Committee may be on shaky ground

The people of Longmont changed their form of city government from statutory to home rule in 1961. Under Article XX of the Colorado Constitution, which authorizes home rule in local government, they also wrote and adopted the Longmont Municipal Charter.
The Longmont Municipal Code derives most of its power and authority from the Longmont Municipal Charter.
Because of their constitutional quality, home-rule charters are intentionally hard to amend. Consequently, in order for any material to be added or subtracted, or any change be made to the Longmont City Charter, all such proposals must go to a vote of the people. For council to merely pass an ordinance is insufficient.
Which brings us to the forming of the city’s new Election Committee. The City Council may have erred in expanding this committee to seven members from three without first amending the charter, thus conceivably rendering the committee’s work moot. (And, please, this may seem trivial unless we’re interested in the Rule of Law. Also, this is no reflection on the individual committee members.) Here’s what the Longmont Municipal Charter says:
2.2 REGISTRATIONS, JUDGES, CLERKS AND ELECTION COMMISSION
The Council shall by ordinance establish the method for the registration of electors; the qualifications and compensation of election judges and clerks, and the boundaries of election precincts. The Council may by ordinance establish an election commission consisting of the city clerk as chairman; and two additional members to be appointed by the Council with such powers, duties, terms and qualifications as provided by ordinance.

Campaign finance complaints filed against Fissinger

I had forwarded to me two complaints (with multiple possible infractions) filed against Longmont City Council at-large candidate Kaye Fissinger.  Apparently, the City Clerk will present these to the Election Committee on Monday Oct. 26 for them to do their Preliminary Findings one way or the other.  I wrote about the first possible violation, but didn’t file a complaint as I figured the Election Committee would just find it on their own as they went through campaign reports.  They didn’t, but someone else went through the trouble of reporting it, good for them.
I guess we’ll see if there’s a sliding standard for different candidates.
The first complaint has to do with an amended report, the second has to do with the huge billboard that’s been driven around town.  It’s hard to miss, and probably scares kids.  Personally, I think Ms. Fissinger will be a footnote to a footnote in this election and propelled into 4th place (out of 5) since Ed Dloughy isn’t even campaigning.  And then it will be back to screaming at us from the podium with all kinds of conspiracy theories and anti-church rhetoric.
If you’re torn on who to vote for in this at-large race (you get 2 votes for 2 people), and don’t want to throw away a vote on Ms. Fissinger, you can pick Bill Van Dusen (but if you were thinking of voting for Ms. Fissinger you probably already voted for Mr. Van Dusen), Alex Sammoury or current City Council member Gabe Santos.  The latter two offer you the best chance at actual grown-up leadership, not the abrasive style of Ms. Fissinger or the go along with the Benker Bloc rubberstamping of Mr. Van Dusen.  We already got the “look Ma, I got elected” scenario with Brian Hansen two years ago, we don’t need to repeat it with Mr. Van Dusen, with all due respect.
———————————————————————————————————————- 
Three (3) separate loans were made to this campaign, but were not reported on the 10/13/09 campaign report SCHEDULE E, which is a violation of 2.04.204(G) (promissory note or report on a form filed with City Clerk for candidate loan to themselves).  2.04.207(A)1 states this shall be reported on the 21st day before the election.  The penalty for not filing this report 2.204.211(C)1 is $400/day, 3 days elapsed before this report was made.  The Election Committee needs to determine if this is three (3) separate reports (although they each have different dates as noted below) or one(1) report of three (3) loans.  The total fine is either $1,200 or $400.

The dates and amounts of these loans were: 8/20/09 $579.35, 9/4/09 $231, 10/9/09 $94.54 – totaling $904.89.  As stated above, these loans were later reported in an amended report on 10/16/09 (3 days later).  Under 2.04.211(C)5 the penalty is $100/day for each violation.  3 violations x 3 days = $900 fine.

The source of these funds were not disclosed and it needs to be determined if this could be a violation of 2.04.204(A) (“conduit”), whereas the candidate is trying to hide a contribution or contributor.  2.204.211(C)4 penalty for “acting as a conduit” is $400 for each violation.

2.04.207(A)1(c), separate from the 2.04.207(A)1 violation above, was also violated for 3 days as the incorrect amounts were reported for total of contributions reported (loans), expenditures made (incorrectly denoted in original campaign report as “In-Kind Contributions), and balance of funds at end of reporting period (off by $25.95).  There are no specific fines for these types of mistakes entered on campaign reports, so 2.204.211(C)13 (“Any violation of this Act not otherwise set forth herein”) may need to be applied, which is $100.  The Election Committee needs to determine how many of these “not otherwise set” kinds of violations occurred.

Supporting documentation is the 10/13/09 and 10/16/09 original and amended reports made by “Elect Kaye Fissinger” that the City Clerk and Election Committee already have copies of.

—————————————————————————–

There is no accounting for the expenditure or in-kind contribution in the 10/13, 10/16, or 10/20 Elect Kaye Fissinger campaign reports for a large billboard that has been driven around Longmont that bears Ms. Fissingers likeness, name, and electioneering information (Vote For Kaye Fissinger).  In addition, the added expense of the use of the vehicle and fuel must be accounted for.  This is not a yard sign, it’s approximately 10′ x 20′ and can only be displayed on a stationary or moving vehicle.

This has been seen around Longmont since at least 10/8/09 at the Candidate forum at Silvercreek High School, and is still in use at this date. 

2.04.211(C)5 Failing to disclose a contribution or expenditure – $100 per day for each violation, for up to 10 days.

It has been displayed for over 10 days and should be subject to the maximum $1,000 fine.
The expenditure or in-kind contribution of the use of the vehicle and fuel is a separate infraction of over 10 days equaling an additional $1,000 fine.

Election Committee must start all over

Something’s rotten in Denmark.  Well, actually here in Longmont.  Something about the preliminary findings that the Longmont Election Committee has done so far just didn’t pass the smell test for me – and now I know why.

A fair chunk of the people chosen for this committee had the full backing of the Benker Bloc, which is no surprise and I guess is their right as they were elected.  (Full disclosure, I volunteered for this committee to make a point.  But oddly, and as I expected, I had 4 people vote against me, wanna guess who?  Considering the fiasco the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act and this committee have become, I couldn’t be more thrilled to not be a part of it).  From the very first meeting (and I’m the only member of the public, other than most of the committee members, that has been to every EC meeting), some members were concerned with possible conflicts of interest over past associations and contributions to candidates.

This became much more of an issue when it was time to do the first set of preliminary findings that were based on complaints by Council member Karen Benker.  Election Committee member Marilyn Hughes had to make a “declaration of association”, saying “earlier this year before the campaign season started, I did write a letter to the editor of the Longmont Times-Call and it was published where I supported a number of endeavors that Councilwoman Benker was instrumental.”  She didn’t believe she needed to recuse herself – and didn’t.  She had, and has, to repeat this for every single hearing. 

Well, I found it.  It was on June 14, 2009.  Depending on how you view when the “campaign season started” keep in mind that Ms. Benker’s challenger for the Ward 2 seat, Katie Witt, filed for her candidacy on March 6, 2009Three months before Ms. Hughes op-ed.

But what is the Election Committee’s view of when the “campaign season” starts?  One only has to go back to the October 19, 2009 Election Committee meeting to find out.  On this night, Karen Benker’s complaint against Greg Burt was tossed out as it fell outside the 90 day window before an election, therefore not meeting the definition of “electioneering“.  Some EC members said maybe the election cycle should be changed to election year.  Why not go with infinity, plus one?  Another member asked about when other candidates announced their candidacy, hinting that’s when the election cycle, or campaign season, started.

But more to the campaign season and Ms. Hughes timeline:
March 6 – Katie Witt announces she’s running for Karen Benker’s Ward 2 seat 
April 1 – Ms. Hughes encourages fellow Longmont Area Democrats at their meeting to submit their names for the Election Committee
April 28 – Ms. Hughes’ is appointed to the Election Committee (Benker voted for her)
June 14 – Ms. Hughes’ overly favorable Karen Benker Open Forum letter in the Times-Call

August 2 – Karen Benker announces candidacy

I’m willing to bet a cheeseburger that Ms. Hughes heard about Ms. Witt’s announced candidacy, and/or saw this quote from Ms. Benker:  “declaring your intent to run for City Council office in March, I think, is way premature. It’s too early.  This is not a presidential race; this is not a congressional race; this is Longmont City Council. Let’s get some perspective here.”  And while I acknowledge that it was a different election cycle (a whole 2 years ago), Ms. Hughes donated $150 in cash and in-kind contributions to Ms. Benker as well.

Based on all of the above, Ms. Hughes should have recused herself from the discussion and votes on these, and any future cases involving Ms. Benker.  Ms. Hughes was the acting Chair for the first round of preliminary findings and drove the discussion.  All of the preliminary findings found in the positive regarding Karen Benker should summarily be disregarded and the process needs to be started over from the beginning.