Editorial: Moffat County deserves better from commissioner
During Tuesday’s meeting of the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners, Commissioner Frank Moe recused himself from a vote on filling a recently vacated and much-needed position in the Motor Vehicle Department.
Due to this recusal, the vote ended in a one-to-one tie, with Commissioner Ray Beck voting in favor of filling the position and Commissioner Don Cook voting against; as a result, the position now exists in a state of limbo, undermining the ability of one of the county’s busiest departments to carry out its function.
This is a troubling development, made even more troubling by Moe’s stated reason for having recused himself.
“As a sitting county commissioner and candidate for re-election, I am recusing myself, so there is no conflict of interest on the personnel request from the clerk and recorder,” Moe said.
Two days later, on Thursday, Moe elaborated on his decision, telling the Craig Press he had been advised to recuse himself by Moffat County Attorney Rebecca Tyree.
We are not lawyers, but we are fairly well-versed on election and ethics laws in the state of Colorado, and, according to the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission Handbook, “Public employees … should avoid conduct that is in violation of their public trust or that creates a justifiable impression among members of the public that such trust is being violated.”
The related statute — CRS 24-18-109, which establishes rules of conduct for local government officials and employees — states “a member of the governing body of a local government who has a personal or private interest in any matter proposed or pending before the governing body shall disclose such interest to the governing body and shall not vote thereon and shall refrain from attempting to influence the decisions of the other members of the governing body in voting on the matter.”
We absolutely agree. Elected officials should certainly recuse themselves from any issue that presents a legitimate conflict of interest, or indeed, even the appearance of such a conflict.
That said — and while we understand why Moe would be inclined to follow the advice given him by legal counsel — we’re having a little trouble following the commissioner’s line of reasoning.
Based upon the above-cited guidelines, how could voting to fill a budgeted position in the Motor Vehicle Department be improprietous — or even give the appearance of impropriety? Does Moe have a “personal or private” interest in filling or not filling the position? How could he possibly benefit personally from the outcome?
In short, how could his participation in such a seemingly mundane, yet undeniably important, vote be “in violation of the public trust” or create “a justifiable impression among members of the public that such trust is being violated”?
In our view, it couldn’t.
And assuming, for a moment, that his recusal could be justified, CRS 24-18-109 further states, “A member of the governing body of a local government may vote, notwithstanding paragraph (a) of this subsection, if his participation is necessary to obtain a quorum or otherwise enable the body to act … if he complies with the voluntary disclosure procedures under section 24-18-110.”
As a “sitting county commissioner,” it is part of Moe’s job to take part in votes on staffing decisions, and in our view — and with all due respect to both Moe and Tyree — the stated grounds for recusal are not compelling. We voted him into office, and we pay him quite handsomely to carry out the responsibilities that go along with that office. Ergo — absent a legitimate and statutorily justified conflict of interest — he should vote on the issues that come before the commission.
Elected officials must know their jobs and do them; they must also know the rules that accompany those jobs and abide by them. That’s the contract they made with us when we voted them into office and, in so doing, placed our confidence in them. We have every right to expect them to deliver.
For these reasons, we call upon the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners to revisit the vacancy in the Motor Vehicle Department and hold a proper vote, one in which all sitting commissioners participate.
In our opinion, to do anything less would be a true affront to the public’s trust.