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Councilman raises question over conflicts of interest with campaign donations

Posted at 5:51 PM, Jun 28, 2024

COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado Springs City Councilman Dave Donelson said he’s being punished over raising a question over conflicts of interest during a city council meeting on June 25th.

During the meeting, Donelson asks the city attorney about council members disclosing ex parte communications and conflicts of interest.

“I would suggest we do that,” Donelson said after the attorney said it is encouraged for members to do that.

“We do that when council elects to do so if the President would like to do that now we can,” City Attorney Ben Bollinger said

The city attorney also said to Donelson if he had conflicts of interest to disclose he could do so himself.

Donelson then brought up three council members received $2,500 in campaign donations from Weidner Property Management. He would later learn it was four council members: Michelle Talarico, Brian Risley, David Leinweber, and Lynette Crow-Iverson.

Weidner has applied to build apartments near Garden of the Gods Road and 30th Street, a project that’s faced controversy over building in a Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).

His comments prompted other city council members to call a special meeting for Tuesday July 2nd to call for Donelson’s censure and removal from his committees.

Donelson held a news conference Friday afternoon flanked by supporters on the steps of city hall to address the move for the special meeting.

“That’s fine. They can take contributions, campaign contributions.” Donelson said. “You can choose to not recuse yourself, but I think it’s fair if the city councilman who represents that district asks.”

City Council President Randy Helms said he wants Donelson to apologize for the comments he made on the dais during Tuesday’s meeting and if he did he would not move forward with the meeting.

“When he did that he put in the minds of the citizens, that their government, their city government is corrupt, that they take money from developers and that’s just not true,” Randy Helms said in a phone interview with News5 Friday afternoon.

“As council president, I’m required to object to that and I do,” Helms said.

Helms said campaign finance donations are not considered a conflict of interest in the code of ethics in the Colorado Springs charter.

It's detailed in section 1.3.11 in the city charter.

"1.3.111: GIFTS: A. Hospitality And Gifts: No covered person or immediate family member shall solicit, accept, or give any gift related to the covered person's duties and responsibilities on behalf of the City. B. Exceptions: Providing that the gift could not be reasonably considered a bribe or a means of improper influence on a direct official action, no violation of this Code of Ethics shall be found to apply to the following: 1. A campaign contribution as defined by law."

News5 asked Council President Helms if he could see how the public might see the donations as a conflict of interest.

“Of course I do, that’s why we don’t talk about it on the dais, it’s public knowledge,” Helms.

News5Investigates looked through campaign finance reports on the city’s website and found the contributions Donelson referenced.

News5 also uncovered Donelson accepted a $500 donation from one of the owners of PetCity, a business in his district.

In his time on council, Donelson voted against an ordinance that would have banned PetCity from operating in the city. News5 asked if he should have recused himself from that vote and why he did not disclose it.

Donelson called the question a “gotcha question” and that there’s “no developer dollars and that’s really what we’re talking bout”.

During the conference Donelson touted not receiving money from developers and that the largest donation he received was $1,500 from his son in law and the next was $1,000 from his mom.

“$2,500 is big, I didn’t take developer money and I didn’t take marijuana money those are two things I wouldn’t do,” Donelson said.

Donelson suggested changes to city ordinances surrounding campaign contributions and recusing themselves.

One of his supporters shouted from the crowd “pet city doesn’t run this city, developers run this city”.

“I really believe in my heart that he made a mistake,” Helms said. "I think he is 180 degrees out of sync with this, he's just wrong," he said and added he hopes it doesn't deteriorate his relationship with Donelson, "I hate to do it [hold the special meeting] but I will do because it's my duty."


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