Poage claims impropriety after forced recusal

Councilmember accuses staff, colleagues of blocking her vote

Nick Puckett
npuckett@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/23/20

A Parker town councilmember says members of council and staff are using council’s conflict of interest policy to prevent her from voting on certain issues. The conflict culminated during a June 15 …

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Poage claims impropriety after forced recusal

Councilmember accuses staff, colleagues of blocking her vote

Councilmember Cheryl Poage gave a statement during the June 15 virtual town council meeting, refuting her council cohorts' vote that she held a conflict of interest and barred her from voting on an agenda item.
Councilmember Cheryl Poage gave a statement during the June 15 virtual town council meeting, refuting her council cohorts' vote that she held a conflict of interest and barred her from voting on an agenda item.
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Editor's note: A previous version of this article did not include the following statement: "A Town of Parker spokesperson was reached for further comment from the town and/or its attorney's office, but declined to comment further than what had already been said at the meeting."

A Parker town councilmember says members of council and staff are using council’s conflict of interest policy to prevent her from voting on certain issues.

The conflict culminated during a June 15 town council meeting, revealing the bubbling tension between Councilmember Cheryl Poage and the town’s unelected professionals.

Poage refused to recuse herself from a vote on an agenda matter over a conflict of interest that her cohorts on council say she held.

Before being disconnected from the virtual meeting, Poage read a statement with words rooted in her long frustration with the influence of hired professionals at Parker Town Hall — specifically the town attorney’s office.

Hours before the June 15 meeting, Poage discussed her intentions to run for mayor once again, saying she wants to explore reforming the town’s system of government to give more power to the town’s elected officials. Poage ran last in 2016 and lost to the incumbent Mayor Mike Waid.

The June 15 council agenda matter was relatively routine: a vote to approve a service plan for eight new subdivisions of the Cherry Creek South Metro District, located at the town’s southern boundary.

On matters likes this, council is advised to decide on whether the developer met specific criteria for its service plan from the town’s base service plan. If the applicant meets the criteria, councilmembers are told they are obligated to vote “yes.”

Council ultimately decided Poage held a conflict of interest based on her purported refusal to vote fairly based on the service plan criteria.

Poage said in a February meeting she would not approve any matters regarding residential metro district service plans based on the her disagreement with the town’s mill levy rate for residential metro districts. Poage felt developers were taking advantage of the recently increased mill levy rate by submitting revised service plan applications after the hike had passed May 6, 2019.

The ordinance increased the mill levy rate for residential metro districts from 47.3 to up to 77. Poage voted “yes” to pass the ordinance. One year later, Poage said that was a mistake.

“At that time, they didn’t give me a lot of background information in what the impact was. It wasn’t untiI I started looking a little deeper that I’ve seen the impact. I’ve asked (council) since to not improve any more of these (residential metro districts) because it’s too much,” Poage said.

Poage has recused herself from voting on council matters due to a conflict of interest twice before. Both times, like now, council voted and determined she held a conflict of interest, forcing her to recuse herself.

The Town of Parker charter, Section 3.4, allows the rest of council to vote whether another councilmember has a conflict of interest warranting a recusal.

In this instance, a revised service plan for the Cherry Creek South Metro District needed council approval.

Council gave four reasons for the decision to force Poage to recuse herself:

• Poage’s conflict of interest impedes the independence of judgment.

• Poage’s participation will negatively affect the public’s confidence in the integrity of this town council.

• Poage’s participation is likely to have a significant negative effect on the ultimate disposition of the matter.

• Poage has a fiduciary duty to be impartial and she is obligated to avoid participating in matters when there is a personal interest that may conflict with, influence or be perceived by the public as influencing Poage’s conduct.

Councilmember Josh Rivero, filling in for the absent Waid, read the motion into the record: “The basis of this motion is a statement made by Councilmember Poage that she cannot approve the residential metro district, which statement constitutes pre-judgement and a demonstration that she will not be able to be fair and impartial,” Rivero stated.

A Town of Parker spokesperson was reached for further comment from the town and/or its attorney's office, but declined to comment further than what had already been said at the meeting.

Poage read a statement during the meeting, reiterating that she did not have a financial or material interest in the night’s agenda items. She recommended aligning the town’s conflict of interest policy with the state Senate’s, removing the “personal” aspect from Parker’s policy, which Poage believes is one problem area.

“My public comment in February 2020, in which I stated I would have a concern supporting the 77 mill levy rate for unoccupied homes in new developments, is a statement for the common public interest and nothing more,” Poage said.

Councilmember Jeff Toborg is often Poage’s only ally on the council dais and later defended Poage’s actions. Toborg was absent from the June 15 vote.

“For me, the disheartening piece of that is this council wants to hold her to a conflict of interest when all she has simply done is express an opinion about metro districts,” Toborg said on June 18. “Time and time again, this council has worked to shut her up … just because she had an opinion in public.”

Parker Town Council has dealt before with a conflict of interest controversy. At a 2016 council meeting, several residents took the lectern during the public comment period, accusing all councilmembers and Mayor Waid of holding a conflict of interest regarding a development proposal.

Town Attorney Jim Maloney responded to the outcry at the 2016 meeting, stating a councilmember holds a conflict of interest only when he or she has a material or significant financial interest in the specified matter, in that case an application for a downtown hotel.

Poage accused Maloney of abusing his power by swaying council’s opinion wrongfully. Maloney said his role is simply as an adviser.

The town attorney is a paid position intended to guide town council and staff on legal matters and does not vote on or implement policy.

Maloney added that the mill levy increase, which was Poage’s initial objection, was a decision approved by the mayor and town council last year.

Maloney explained the grounds for his recommendation for Poage’s conflict of interest recusal:

“When you are acting as a council member, you are acting as a judge, and as a judge you have to apply the law as written. If you don’t like the law, you change the law. But you, Councilmember Poage, as a judge, indicated you could not follow the law, and as a result, you made the decision yourself that you would recuse yourself. This is not a decision made by the town attorney’s office.”

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