Why people who are unwilling to disclose their business relationships should not serve on city council


It feels a bit odd to be writing this particular column. I mean, honestly, is it even possible for someone who wants to run for elected office in this day and age to be so out of touch as to suggest that they should be allowed to keep their business interests and relationships secret from the people they are representing?

Apparently it is. So for the sake of councilman George Karakehian and any other current or future city council members who think that the law should be suspended for them because their personal integrity is obviously above reproach, I’ll try to explain it. Again.

Now listen closely. We, the majority of voters, don’t trust you. We have no reason to trust you. We don’t know you well personally. We have never done business with you. We have no idea if you are honest. We have no idea if you are greedy. We have no idea if you are willing to lie to us and cheat us and abuse your elected position to benefit yourself at our expense.

Because the vast majority of us never have close personal relationships with the people we elect to office, the best we can do is to create safeguards such as financial disclosure requirements that will at least help to protect us from those who would abuse their position for personal gain or for the benefit of their friends and business partners.

Disclosure protects the public in two ways. First, if a candidate or councilperson lies on their disclosure form and the media does its job and reports this fact, then all of us can draw our own conclusions about the character of the person who was not forthcoming. Second, if a candidate or elected official is honest on their disclosure form, then the citizenry and media can watch the officials’ voting record to make sure that special treatment is not being given to themselves or their friends and business partners.

I can’t believe that I’m having to write this in 2014. I can’t believe that there are actually elected members of Boulder City Council who can walk and chew gum at the same time, who are still acting like the idea of full disclosure of business relationships — particularly those concerning the limited liability companies (LLCs) that have been used in recent years by multiple members of council and which conceal the identities of business partners, campaign contributors and real estate ownership — is somehow an inappropriate expectation on the part of the electorate and that it is still open for debate. Did you miss the part where I said, “We don’t trust you”? Let me say it again. We don’t trust you.

And furthermore, we shouldn’t. We would be terribly naïve voters if we simply voted for a bunch of candidates we don’t know personally and then blindly trusted that they would always do the right thing and recuse themselves when a conflict arises. Our government at all levels only works because it is based on checks and balances. And when those are weakened, government tends to stop working. I don’t mind telling you that most of us got pretty tired watching the previous council wiggle and whine as it screwed us over at every turn on disclosure. It appears that the current council is ready to finally do the right thing, and for that its members should be applauded, at least those members who are willing to finally bring an end to the despicable LLC loophole that has made a mockery of local government in Boulder for too long.

Think about it, Councilman Karakehian, just because you are obviously above reproach doesn’t mean the next person who takes your place will be. Why do you insist on weakening the disclosure requirements for LLCs so that some future jerk with lots of developer friends will be able to get onto the city council and vote on land use issues that will enrich them and their pals without voters ever knowing they’ve been had? Why? Why would any honest person in office oppose disclosing their business relationships in an LLC? Karakehian’s answer of “that’s never going to happen” is hardly an explanation for his continued insistence on secrecy.

Personally, I don’t care if people on or running for council report how much money they make. Being rich is not a conflict of interest. What matters is that the public knows where the money comes from. If those on or running for council want to disclose their income because they think it’s something that voters may want to know, I applaud them. More information is always best.

But let’s not let anything like personal income create a smokescreen that blinds us to the real issue when it comes to disclosure requirements. LLCs are partnerships specifically designed to protect the identities of the partners from the public. You can’t look up the partners at the secretary of state’s office or at any other public venue.

The answer is simple. If you want to restore the public’s confidence that has been lost due to this issue over the past several years, then require every member of all LLCs and other partnerships to be disclosed. And this, by the way, is not a new requirement. It is what has always been required by the very clear and easy-to-understand language of Boulder’s disclosure requirements. The language only became confusing to council and the city attorney that they pay to keep them out of trouble after members of council got caught hiding information they were required by law to provide.

As for those on council who believe that they should be allowed to keep their business relationships secret from voters and their fellow councilpersons? That’s pretty simple, too; get off council now. No one made you run, and if you don’t want to play by the rules, quit.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com