How Not to Respond to an Ethics Complaint

Former Jefferson County Commissioner Kevin McCasky has been dealing with quite the ethical headache lately. In March of last year, Colorado Ethics Watch filed a complaint with the state’s Independent Ethics Commission alleging that the commissioner used his elected position to lobby for extra funding for the Jefferson Economic Council (JEC) while at the same time applying for a job there.

The Independent Ethics Commission has since moved forward with their investigation of McCasky, and Colorado Ethics Watch went so far as naming the commissioner’s actions a “top ethical failure.”

Now, in a story in the Denver newspaper from last week, McCasky demonstrates the worst possible way to handle an ethics complaint.

McCasky’s ethical missteps are juxtaposed with those of Logan County Commissioner Jim Edwards, whose technology company was receiving a rather large share of county contracts. Unlike McCasky, Edwards requested an advisory opinion from the commission – he wanted to make sure he was doing the right thing. He wanted to exonerate himself.

McCasky, on the other hand, apparently thinks that the whole investigation is a little ridiculous. His counsel goes so far to say that there “isn’t a hint of quid pro quo.”

That’s got to raise some eyebrows.

Rather than deferring to the judgement of the Independent Ethics Commission, like Logan, McCasky’s defiant. To him, not only is there no ethical violation, but it’s ridiculous that anybody is even questioning his actions as commissioner.

The problem with McCasky’s defiance is how incredibly bad it looks to use your position as an elected official to increase funding to a place at which you’re also applying for a well-paid job. No matter how much McCasky says to the contrary, what he did looks exactly as bad as it sounds.

Perhaps McCasky didn’t lobby for the JEC funding increase in the hopes of landing a job there. The question then becomes why did he lobby for that increase? What was the real reason the JEC was  the only organization to receive a funding increase? Why didn’t McCasky recuse himself from that funding vote despite the fact that he submitted his resume to the JEC a month prior?

Unless McCasky can come up with logical, reasonable, and believable answers to these and other questions, there’s no reason to think that there isn’t the “hint of a quid pro quo.”  

The more that McCasky displays such strenuous defiance, the worse this whole thing is going to be for both his career and the Jefferson Economic Council if the Independent Ethics Commission ultimately decides that there was some wrongdoing.

McCasky’s hearing will continue on March 19. In the meantime, perhaps he should start looking for another job. On second thought, maybe not.  

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