FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
APRIL 13, 2023
MONUMENT, Colo. — This press release addresses the promise that I made to the town council and residents of the Town of Monument to continue conducting an investigation of a complaint that was filed with the Monument Town Clerk regarding a violation of Colorado’s Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA) and the investigations conducted by special attorney Grant Van Der Jagt of Starzynski Van Der Jagt, P.C. and Bob Cole of Collins Cole Flynn Winn & Ulmer, PLLC.
Websites and resumes of Staryzynski Van Der Jagt, P.C. and Collins Cole Flynn Winn & Ulmer, PLLC indicate two different law practices with the former being a generalist law firm that does not list any specialty in FCPA, municipal, or election law, and the later having over 40 years’ experience in local government law including organizing municipalities and special districts, municipal home rule, local government elections and municipal law.
In the final two weeks of December 2022, the outgoing Town of Monument Town Council mandated and effected an investigation by a generalist attorney who was an acquaintance of the outgoing council, to rush through an investigation, even against the attorney’s recommendation, that was conducted in 8 days, a time period that included the end of year holidays. The council’s demand for this investigation to be completed before their terms ended caused town staff to be recalled from prior scheduled family vacations and well-deserved time off.
In the months since, the new town council has directed a formal investigation and review of the events between December 5th and December 28th, 2022. That investigation and review totaled just over three months’ worth of work and effort to produce an unbiased and neutral assessment of the FCPA violation complaint and the initial report that was prepared, presented, and subsequently leaked to news media outlets in the hours before the December 28th, 2022.
Of particular interest to note is the decidedly different tones between the two very different reports presented to the Town of Monument Town Council.
Attached is a document that lays out a general timeline of events and actions taken by all parties involved.
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In the fall of 2022, campaign signs and door hangers attributed to the Citizens for Home Rule issue committee urged voters to vote yes on the November 8, 2022, Ballot Question 2A, regarding the proposed Home Rule Charter. A formal complaint regarding the lack of reporting the expenditures for the campaign materials was filed by then Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Elliott. Following procedures outlined in the Town Municipal Code, the Elliott Complaint was assigned to an independent hearing officer who determined that the alleged violations had been cured and dismissed the complaint.
During the consideration of the Elliott Complaint it became apparent that Town funds had been used to purchase the Citizen’s for Home Rule issue committee’s signs and doorhangers that urged the voters to vote yes on Ballot Question 2A. When members of Citizens for Home Rule became aware that this may have violated campaign finance limitations, the money was repaid to the Town.
In December 2022, the Town Council authorized attorney Grant Van Der Jagt to investigate the Fair Campaign Practices Act requirements related to the in-kind donation from the Town for Home Rule Issue Committee election materials.
The Starzynski Van Der Jagt Engagement Letter was signed by the Town without the benefit of legal counsel to protect the Town’s interests. The engagement letter and Mr. Van Der Jagt’s work went well beyond the scope of the investigation authorized by Town Resolution Nos. 94-2022 and 95-2022.
Mr. Van Der Jagt’s Report and its findings or conclusions were never endorsed or approved by the Town Council.
The Van Der Jagt report contains numerous erroneous statements of fact and law. It generally fails to provide any reasonable analysis or substantiation for its conclusions and recommendations, especially as related to allegations of criminal or culpable activity. It contains numerous, unsubstantiated personal attacks. Because of these failings, the Town Council through Resolution No. 26-2023 disavowed the Van Der Jagt report.
Current Town Council members committed in December 2022, to continue to investigate and report back to the public on the initial payment by the Town for the Citizens for Home Rule signs and doorhangers.
At the Town Council’s direction, in January 2023, the interim Town Attorney continued the investigation and prepared the Report on Town In-Kind Donations to the Ballot Question 2A Issues Committee.
The Town Council thoroughly reviewed the Ballot Question 2A Donation Report, found it to be well supported by a detailed recitation and documentation of facts and law, and through Resolution No. 26-2023 endorsed and adopted the Report as the Town’s findings on the matter.
The Ballot Question 2A Donation Report is thorough and answers most of the questions related to the Town’s initial funding of the Citizen’s for Home Rule’s campaign materials.
The Town Clerk’s and the Hearing Officer’s handling of the Elliott Complaint was proper and in compliance with law.
Both the Monument Municipal Code the regulations of the Colorado Secretary of State recognize that corrected reports and reimbursement to the Town by Citizens for Home Rule were adequate cures for the violations associated with the initial funding of campaign materials by the Town.
It was improper for the Town Council to authorize and Mr. Van Der Jagt to investigate the matters included in the Elliott Complaint for purposes of enforcing the Municipal Code’s and the Fair Campaign Practices Act’s prohibitions on the use of Town funds for campaign materials. The law gives the Town Clerk the sole jurisdiction over such matters.
It is proper for the Town Council to consider the circumstances regarding the initial use of Town funds for campaign materials to avoid future violations.
There were several misunderstandings and confusion around the permissible uses of Town funds budgeted for the Home Rule Commission which initially paid for the campaign materials. No one involved intended to violate the campaign finance laws and when they understood they had, they promptly repaid the Town, which is recognized by law as an adequate cure.
In April 2022, when he approved payment for the campaign materials, the Town Manager was not aware they contained the “vote yes” message and mistakenly understood that he was authorizing payment for educational materials prepared to comply with the campaign finance laws. He did not become aware until late summer or early fall that the funding of the materials was a violation.
Legal counsel for the Home Rule Charter Commission and Town Attorney in November and December 2022, Kathryn Sellars, was not involved in preparing the door hangers and yard signs and was not consulted on or aware of any of their content until the Elliott Complaint was filed. She did not act improperly related to these matters.
The Ballot Question 2A Donation Report makes several recommendations that the Town will be pursuing to avoid future campaign finance violations and to avoid Colorado Open Meetings Law and Conflicts of Interest violations that may have occurred during the Town Council’s consideration of these matters in November and December 2022.