Aurora City Council approves new campaign finance reporting schedule

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AURORA |  City lawmakers took on three separate transparency measures Monday during the Aurora City Council meeting, but only an alteration to the city’s campaign finance rules was successful. 

The others — a revamp of an ethics code and a set of rules codifying state open records laws into city code — failed to garner enough support. 

Council members Nicole Johnston and Charlie Richardson teamed up to present an ethics code to fellow city lawmakers in the group’s study session. Richardson called the city bill the “miracle on East Alameda Parkway,” a nod to the compromise from the duo who, at one point, had two different versions of an ethics code. 

While a vote to move the ordinance to a formal city council meeting failed, the two members indicated that they will act on their right to introduce it anyway. 

Some council members cited concerns with some aspects of the proposal, especially a provision that would prohibit an elected official from accepting more than $75 for any meals, tickets or gifts from a lobbyist per year.

“(I) guess we’re not meeting with anybody,” Councilwoman Francoise Bergan said during the study session. “It’s just too low, I won’t be going anywhere.”

Amendment 41, which outlines ethics for state employees and elected officials caps the annual gifts and meal tab at $59. Neighboring Denver City Council members can accept up to $300.

Council member Bob Roth, along with Bergan, said his concern wasn’t so much with the reporting as it was doing the accounting on each item they receive, like a mug that’s part of a gift basket at a conference.

The ethics code may be presented at a formal council meeting in August.

A measure from Richardson and council member Angela Lawson to set a series of rules in city code that pertain to the Colorado Open Records Act failed after a tied vote during the meeting. 

The duo wanted certain rules, such as eliminating applicable fees for a page that is more than 50 percent redacted, collecting certain data on requests and city residents receiving additional help to refine a request. 

The proposal also included practices that are considered standard or law now: Like, citing specific exemptions authorizing specific information being kept from the public and responding to a request within three days — that’s written into the CORA law.

City staff said it would take some tweaking to implement the ordinance, but it wasn’t a huge lift and doable.

Council members Johnston, Dave Gruber, Allison Hiltz, Crystal Murillo and Johnny Watson voted against the measure. 

Johnston said she believed that staff was already acting appropriately on CORA requests from residents and didn’t see a need for more language in city code.

Finally, Johnston’s ordinance that restructures campaign finance reporting passed with one no vote from Watson. 

Johnston’s ordinance requires reports be filed at 90 days, 60 days, 30 days, 14 days and the Friday before election day. Another finance report would be required 30 days after the election. Currently, city code only dictates that candidates submit reports 90 days, 21 days, the Friday before and 30 days after the election.

Several candidates currently running for a seat on the dais offered their support for the change. Alison Coombs, Juan Marcano, Bryan Lindstrom and Leanne Wheeler told the council they had no problem with the new schedule.

An amendment from Gruber that would have set the effective date to January 1, 2020, ultimately failed. Had it prevailed, Johnston said she felt so strongly that the ordinance should take effect before this election cycle she’d vote against the measure. 

That ordinance will require one more vote from the council before being enacted.