Planning Commission addresses conflict of interest
Donations to former County Commissioner candidate Warren Wilcox raised a few eyebrows on the Planning Commission last week. Although he did not win the District 2 commissioner’s seat, Wilcox’s campaign received nine donations with potential ties to SG Interests. The oil and gas company has active applications with the Planning Commission, of which Wilcox is a voting member.
The Planning Commission discussed the matter publicly on Friday, November 16. Chairman Ramon Reed opened the discussion by reminding the commission that its members could not direct Wilcox to recuse himself from applications pertaining to SG Interests, but they could address the potential conflict of interest in order to maintain the commission’s integrity in the eyes of the public.
Reed read from the handbook guiding the Planning Commission: “When a public official, employee, or professional has a private or personal interest that is sufficient to appear to influence the objective exercise of his or her official duties, a conflict of interest exists even if no improper act results from it that can create an appearance of impropriety that can undermine confidence in the individual or group.”
“That’s my concern,” Reed said. “I don’t want this commission or Warren to be in question as far as the integrity of our actions and our process.”
Reed listed nine campaign contributions that came from employees or officers of SG Interests or that appeared to have potential connections to the company. Several of the donations were for $950, just under a significant $1,000 cap. Donations at or above $1,000 must be reported to the state within 48 hours and require the establishment of a special bank account.
The donations, all confirmed on the Colorado Secretary of State website, total $6,900. It’s too early to know how that compares to the other candidates running for county commissioner—final reports are due to the Secretary of State by December 2—but donations reported to date suggest that a more typical range for campaign contributions to county commissioners is $50 to $100 per contribution.
At the Planning Commission meeting, Wilcox stated he had no knowledge of the donations. Prior to running for the seat, he said he ensured that he had sufficient finances to manage a campaign and had not planned for donations to play a major role.
“I had no internal involvement with the mail or donations. There were a couple of times my wife handed me a deposit slip and I took it to the bank. But as far as knowing names, I don’t know the names of anybody who gave contributions to me,” Wilcox said.
He added that his campaign platform clearly favored bringing higher paying jobs to the county, and he wouldn’t be surprised if people who agreed with his platform donated to his campaign.
“But personally I have not in any way said I’d do anything for anybody, or had specific involvement with any people read off that list,” he said.
Deputy county attorney Art Trezise explained that the donations were legal and did not automatically create a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest would only arise if ex parte communications or anything else led to a predisposition to vote a certain way.
“That all makes perfect sense and we have to stand up for Warren and what he says,” said board member Jeremy Rubingh before addressing Wilcox directly. “The only question I would have is, in light of these donations, do you think there’s any way that might affect how you make decisions on this board?”
“I don’t think this changed any of the propensity of the way I think based on how I thought a year ago or how I think today,” Wilcox answered.
“It seems that with Warren’s answer of not knowing about the donations that the question is closed,” said county attorney David Baumgarten, who called into the meeting.
But Eric Sanford, operations and land manager for SG Interests, had one final point to add. Clarifying that he was not one of the people who donated to the campaign, he stated that neither Wilcox nor his campaign solicited the donations. SG Interests had made donations to other local candidates as well, and he implied donations were not tied to the applications before the board.
“We’ve had applications in front of the Planning Commission for the last four and a half years and we have a pre-application meeting scheduled under the new regulations,” he said.