For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Rob Douglas: Atira's call to Quinn raises thorny issues

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Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

— The Atira Group - developers of Ski Time Square, Edgemont, Thunderhead and other projects at the ski area base - acted inappropriately by contacting Steamboat Springs City Councilman Jon Quinn at a critical moment in the council's review of Thunderhead.

To be clear, Quinn's actions concerning Atira are not in question.

But Atira's call to Quinn to discuss possibly terminating its long-standing business relationship with him - with Atira hopeful that Quinn would then stop recusing himself from council votes - was wrong.

Placed in context, it is clear Quinn has wrestled with questions surrounding conflicts of interest between his council duties and his business interests as an owner of Northwest Data Services from the moment he joined the council.

But admirably, Quinn has not only publicly shared his thinking about his quandary, he consistently and correctly has decided to recuse himself from matters in which he has a substantial financial interest.

Quinn's conflicts involving Atira first were raised when Edgemont was before the council the day Quinn was sworn in back in November 2007. Although Quinn told the Pilot & Today the day before that he didn't feel he had to recuse himself from Atira matters, he did so that day at the request of other council members.

Soon thereafter, Quinn addressed the issue of conflicts in a December 2007 Pilot & Today article written after a council retreat during which conflicts of interest were discussed. According to the article, Quinn and Atira initially believed Quinn should vote on Atira projects. But, based on input from other council members during the retreat, Quinn decided to recuse himself from all Atira matters.

In keeping with that 2007 decision, Quinn has recused himself from all Atira projects with no negative consequences for Atira - until recently.

Two months ago, Atira's application for Thunderhead came before the council on a motion for approval. With Quinn recusing himself, the motion failed because of a tie vote.

After the tie vote and a decision that evening that Atira could amend their application and ask for an expeditious second vote, Quinn told the Pilot & Today that he had debated whether to recuse himself from the Thunderhead issue. But once again, he said he stepped down to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.

Quinn's public admission that he wrestled with his decision to recuse himself on a key Atira vote was followed by Atira contacting Quinn and placing his continued work for Atira in jeopardy. Significantly, that call to Quinn was made after the tie vote that put the Thunderhead project in doubt and before the scheduled second vote earlier this week. Tuesday's vote evenutally was postponed.

As reported in the Pilot & Today this week, Atira Vice President for Development Mark Mathews contacted Quinn after the tie vote because "Atira and its partners recently considered severing their business relationship with Quinn."

In what smacks of spin, Mathews' answer to why he contacted Quinn to discuss severing Atira's business relationship at this crucial moment in Atira's dealings with the city was couched as Atira trying to assist Quinn in avoiding any conflict of interest.

Mathews told the Pilot & Today, "Although Atira hired Northwest Data because they do good work, it could be perceived that by hiring Jon's company we are attempting to influence council - even informally."

So, get this: Atira wants us to believe that after working with Quinn's firm for years, they suddenly and coincidentally decided on the eve of a make-or-break vote to discuss with Quinn severing their relationship so it wouldn't appear they are influencing the council.

If that's not spin, I don't know what is. But perhaps another of Mathews' spun responses reveals reality.

Again, according to a story in the Pilot & Today:

"Asked if a severance of Atira's business relationship with Quinn would be accompanied by an expectation that the councilman no longer would step down from hearings involving the company's projects, Mathews wrote, 'It is ideal to have all council members representing their constituents and weighing in on important decisions. It would be up to Jon and his fellow council members to determine if it would be appropriate for him to vote on Atira Group projects.'"

I think a fair translation of Mathews' polished answer is: "Yes, we may terminate our business relationship with Quinn's firm in expectation that Quinn start voting on Atira's projects."

Appropriately, Quinn was outraged by Atira's suggestion that they end their business relationship so that he might vote on Atira's projects. Quinn recognizes that his ethics would be questioned if he started to vote after a severance from Atira, stating, "I would never vote on that stuff because that perception is still out there. I think there always would be."

What is most troubling about Atira's decision to contact Quinn at this crucial moment for the Thunderhead project is that it raises the thorny question about whether Atira is trying to influence Quinn or the council. Hopefully, this was a ham-handed contact by Atira to Quinn that was an error in judgment that won't be repeated.

But just in case anyone with business before any government body in Colorado is unaware, Colorado law prohibits attempts to influence public servants by means of economic reprisal with the intent to alter or affect a public servant's decision, vote, opinion or action concerning any matter to be considered or performed by the public servant or the agency or body of which he is a member.

To contact Rob Douglas, e-mail Rob.Douglas@comcast.net

Comments

aichempty 5 years, 4 months ago

I think you'd have a very hard time prosecuting Atira for attempting to influence Quinn.

The only thing inappropriate going on in this mess is that Quinn took on a public position that he had to run for and win at the ballot box when he knew it might impact his business dealings. Or, he should have known. The laws have been on the books for a long time.

If Rob Douglas won a seat on the council he'd have to refrain from commenting on any public business or issue having to do with the elected position or the Pilot would have to give his political opponents space to reply in print.

We all know that public office often comes with business advantages that other people don't get. It also comes with responsibilities.

The Atira people have lawyers too. They know that Quinn is obligated to recuse himself. And what would they hope to gain by taking business away from him except to anger him and cause him to vote against them?

The reasonable thing for Quinn to do if he can't afford to lose Atira's business is to resign from the board. His replacement might be someone who could vote in favor of Atira's interests without being caught in a financial conflict of interest. It's up to him to decide which alternative is better.

The better question is whether Atira would have a case against Quinn if he voted against them after they sever the business relationship? It's also against the law for a person to use their public office to retaliate against private parties. Atira would have a nice civil case against Quinn in that situation, and I'm betting Atira has more money to spend on legal fees. Quinn could avoid the whole issue by resigning from the board, and that's what he should do if his private interests substantially interfere with his ability to perform his elected duties.

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Chad Fleischer 5 years, 4 months ago

Rob,

Your column is a complete farce and your finger pointing, smearing and assumption of extortion is without any valid claim. Atira has chosen to hire Quinn for his services and he has recused himself for that reason. It would only make sense to have Quinn completely removed from both sides of this instead of one. I would also agree that this particular development and issue is so big and important that losing one vote is not acceptable. Quinn should step down and someone should be inserted to ensure the right decisions are made with full representation of the City Council.
In doing so there is no need for Quinn to lose any business and there would be 7 members of the Council making a decision that is of major importance to the base area and the community as a whole. If you had a business, were in business or had any business sense you would know this. I have read a number of your articles and they are all opinions, extremely biased ones and all without seeking to find the facts or gather the evidence to support your claims. If your background is in detective work you may want to try to actually work on fact finding, getting your own quotes and writing a story based actually working instead of reading between lines and taking quotes out of context.. I can write an article to without interviews, credible witnesses/sources but the story would be wrong my facts would be wrong and I would look like an absolute moron.
Your article is a personal attack on a very reputable and credible development company who is serving the best interests of this community.
If you were not so busy getting your facts wrong, lying and fabricating stories you would understand that there are jobs at stake on this deal, real estate taxes that will benefit the community and headlines that will continue to excite the skiing community at large. In a time like this and with the reputation of the developer being as credible as it is why write such an assnine story? Stories like this, at the very least, will make the Pilot and Today realize how much money Atira spends on advertising and the public benefit they are creating and how pitifully ignorant you are. GO back to DC where cheap shots are taken all the time, stories are written without merit and you are welcome in the community. Your story only depicts the developer as a "mafia" type entity where they are in fact a blessing to the ski base area and community at large.

Again, according to a story in the Pilot & Today:

What a cop out. It takes work to write a story...and a worthy author. I would call what you do...stupidity!

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Chad Fleischer 5 years, 4 months ago

Just in case you are wondering how off the mark you always are here is one of the articles I brought up to remind everyone, including yourself, how quick you are to judge and write stories without merit or fact.

Rob Douglas: Steamboat remains calm as Vail panics

I could bring up more of your ridiculous columns but I have work to do and I am calling you out.

Pilot and Today please...Dump the Chump!

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jk 5 years, 4 months ago

Chad please for one is there such a thing?, " very reputable and credible development company who is serving the best interests of this community." and two, "they are in fact a blessing to the ski base area and community at large."Give Me a Break please are you serious??

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bubba 5 years, 4 months ago

Aich and Chad, I think your calls for Jon to step down are ridiculous - unless you suggest that the only person qualified to sit on city council is an unemployed person. This town is small enough, and the majority of the jobs are related to the ski area or development that anyone with any business interest is going to run into a situation where they have to recuse themselves from one vote or another. And really, it was inappropriate for Atira to suggest that they terminate their contract with Jon's company - if they had thought it through, it would have been obvious to them that he would still have to recuse himself, otherwise if he voted for them, the conspiracy nuts would have a field day with that arrangement, and if he voted against, Atira would claim it was in retaliation for terminating his contract. Either way, it would have been better for him to recuse himself from the vote.

And really, Chad, I think you are missing the point- Rob is an opinion columnist, and you are blasting him for offering his opinion. His job is to write an opinion column that sparks debate within the community, and on this on-line forum. If he wrote news stories backed with facts, as you are requesting, he would not be an opinion writer, but a reporter. If he wrote a column that you agreed with, he would not be a reporter or an opinion columnist, but an Advertising Executive for Atira. Either way, his job is to offer his opinion, not to write ads or report on current events. Articles that say a person's name at the top, followed by a colon and a statement are OPINION (as in Rob Douglas: Atira's Call to Quinn Raises Thorny Issues). Articles that just say a statement at the top (as in Thunderhead Vote Tabled) are news stories, which report on events or occurrences. Hopefully this general rule of thumb will help you understand your local newspaper better in the future.

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aichempty 5 years, 4 months ago

bubba,

Quinn is obligated under Colorado law to recuse himself from the vote. No if's about it. He's not allowed to say that he's objective and then vote. Nope. He ain't allowed to vote. It's not in his hands. If he voted, he'd be breaking the law.

Go look it up in the Colorado Revised Statutes.

I don't know the guy, and don't care about his vote. I have no interest in the matter either way.

The only way to break the stalemate is for some of the others to change their votes, or for Quinn to resign and be replaced by someone who can vote.

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Tim Scannell 5 years, 4 months ago

Chad I've owned my own retail business for 23 years and understand business. I agree with Rob's opinion, based on the facts. Your arguement is hurt by your lack of independence and personal attacks. Anger issues?

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bubba 5 years, 4 months ago

Aich, I understand that he is obligated to recuse himself. What I was disputing was your and Chad's suggestion that he should resign from council because he is a business person.

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aichempty 5 years, 4 months ago

Bubba,

I did not suggest he resign because he is a business person. I suggested he resign if he wants to keep his business with Atira and not violate the state laws.

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 4 months ago

The value of the article is lost on me. The point?

But Aich, our conflict of interest protocols are apparently different from the state's: Our Council and Boards allow their members to subsequently enjoy employment or contracts from an applicant. Your words re: the state, seem to run counter to that protocol.

We do have boundaries: As a planning commissioner I was expected to state any existing or previous relationship with an applicant which would include any financial gain. I might recuse myself, and next my peers had opportunity to request I recuse myself. Generally any such request by a peer, even one in a minority is obvious evidence of a "a perception of conflict", and is deemed sufficient need to recuse.

I would step down, as Jon has with Atira, whenever the applicant was a prior client, or even a friend. I would state, but not step down, when his team included an architect I had worked for before. My peers never had a problem with that.

I never saw anyone on PC resist a single peer's request. Over the years I have seen CC members stay to vote after establishing the concern was not a CC majority concern. I never agreed with that approach, but so it goes...

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aichempty 5 years, 4 months ago

Steve,

Yeah, I know they make it up as they go around here, but the law is the law. What's the relationship with the applicant when the vote is taken? If none, then there's no problem. If the applicant later hires the board member, there's no problem. It's only when the applicant is in a position to provide a financial advantage to the board member, or when a relative or business associate of the board member is directly involved, that there's a conflict of interest.

Now, if Quinn drops Atira, and votes "no," and Atira wants to hire him back, nobody can complain about that.

The real truth is that local boards abuse and violate the requirements all the time, and unless somebody is willing to shell out long green on lawyers, nothing is going to happen. Unless it's egregious enough to attract the attention of the FBI, CBI, Secretary of State, or cause a governmental body to step in and stop the shennanigans, they get away with it.

The school board's recent loss in court to the Pilot is a perfect example of a board of volunteers violating a state law just because they thought they could get away with it, or didn't know any better. It goes on with everything from homeowner's associations to water and sewer districts on up to the city council and county commissioners. The difference comes in when somebody who objects has enough to pay for the lawsuit; otherwise the boards pretty much do as they like.

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