Weld County Commissioner Julie Cozad the subject of a state ethics investigation | MyWindsorNow.com

Weld County Commissioner Julie Cozad the subject of a state ethics investigation

Tyler Silvy
tsilvy@greeleytribune.com

Julie Cozad

Weld County Commissioner Julie Cozad is the subject of a state Independent Ethics Commission investigation following a complaint from a Weld County resident.
Cozad, the Board of Weld County Commissioners chairwoman, is accused of improperly accepting a gift after attending a North Colorado Medical Center fundraiser in late January. At the fundraiser, Cozad, along with her husband, were guests of Noble Energy, which later had business before the county commissioners.
Johnstown resident Ellen DeLorenzo filed the complaint July 20, and the Independent Ethics Commission agreed to investigate it on Sept. 29.
The complaint was posted publicly online Thursday by the Independent Ethics Commission.
Cozad has until Oct. 30 to file a response, but she said she would provide one to The Tribune and the Independent Ethics Commission within the next few days.
Weld County attorneys are not representing Cozad, as she says she's answering the complaint herself. Cozad said in a phone interview Thursday that she's confident she's in the right.
"I'll let my response speak for everything else," Cozad said.
The complaint alleges the table Cozad and her husband sat at cost $2,500 per seat. It was a table for 10, and Noble's donation was $25,000.
Cozad said she was planning to attend the fundraiser anyway, and was invited to sit at the Noble table "at the last minute."
After conversations with Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker, Cozad agreed to pay $150 total for the two meals and made a $220 donation to the North Colorado Medical Center Foundation.
Because even regular seats at the fundraiser were going for $275 apiece, the complaint alleges Cozad's contributions are at least $180 short of the minimum cost to attend, with a maximum obligation of $4,630, considering the $2,500 per seat cost of the Noble table.
The Colorado Constitution prohibits public officials from accepting gifts equivalent to $59 or greater (it was $50 in 2011, but has gone up due to inflation).
DeLorenzo brought the complaint before the county commissioners and the Weld County Council on Feb. 13, eliciting a statement from Cozad that was read at the County Council meeting.
After DeLorenzo spoke at the Feb. 13 County Council meeting, Council Chairman Brett Abernathy didn't make much of the complaint.
"I find we get into the weeds determining who you can sit with and who you can't sit with when you go to an event," Abernathy said. "I don't believe there's anything here we need to pursue."
The County Council is charged with reviewing conflicts of interest, according to the Weld County Charter. But DeLorenzo's complaint touches on other issues, including improper benefits.
DeLorenzo said in a phone interview Thursday that she decided to go to the Independent Ethics Commission after researching the matter.
In her February statement, Cozad said she supports the local hospital and has attended the event each of the past seven years. She said commissioners regularly attend fundraisers and regularly sit at tables sponsored by local businesses.
She said the benefit is to the nonprofits, not to her as a commissioner, as she has no financial interest, particularly with Noble.
However, Noble Energy did have a land use case with commissioners less than a month after the fundraiser, which could raise the specter of an appearance of impropriety, something the Independent Ethics Commission does consider, even if ethics rules in the Colorado Constitution are not violated.
It's something DeLorenzo pointed out in her complaint.
"I think it's an issue because I believe the county commissioners have a leadership role they've been elected into whereby their constituents, myself included, expect them to behave ethically," DeLorenzo said.
The complaint further alleges one of the Noble representatives, Greg Pickerel, was at both the fundraiser and the land use hearing, despite Cozad saying on record during the hearing that she has had no conflict of interest or outside contact with Noble Energy.
Dino Ioannides, from the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission, said the process usually takes four or five months. That timeline is from the time the commission declares a complaint non-frivolous, which the commission did for DeLorenzo's complaint in late September.
The vast majority of complaints the commission receives are deemed frivolous, including 27 of the 30 listed on the Independent Ethics Commission website.
— Tyler Silvy covers government and politics for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at tsilvy@greeleytribune.com. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.

Other complaints in 2017

There is just one other complaint involving a local official that the state Independent Ethics Commission has deemed non-frivolous. There have been 38 total complaints in 2017, and two others that were deemed non-frivolous involve officials in Williamsburg.

Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Windsor — Marble was accused of accepting improper gifts through her role as moderator at a forum on oil and gas issues at a restaurant. Extraction Oil and Gas paid for food for the roughly 75 people who attended. Marble says she drank water and ate a few potato chips, and did not knowingly benefit from any sort of gift intended directly for her. The commission deemed the complaint non-frivolous June 12.

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