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Revolving Door

The revolving door involves movement from city government into business, specifically into businesses that do business with the city or represent people before its boards and agencies. The conflict here involves using information and goodwill obtained during one's public service to immediately benefit oneself by using them to benefit others, for a charge.

There needs to be a balance between, on the one hand, preventing the fact and appearance that public service is a way to enrich oneself for the benefit of those with the most money, and on the other hand restricting public servants from making a good living when they leave.

Please share your thoughts about and experiences with this difficult problem, and the various possible ways to come to terms with it.

100(11). Revolving Door

  1. For a period of one year after the termination of his or her city service or employment, an official or employee* may not appear* or practice before any city department, agency, board or commission, except on his or her own behalf, or on behalf of the city if serving on a volunteer basis. For this same period, an official or employee* may not receive compensation for working on, or having associates working on, any matter before any city department, agency, board or commission. With respect to particular matters on which the official or employee personally worked while in city service or employment, this bar is permanent. The foregoing also applies, during the same periods of time, to any individual who is a partner, associate, or member of a person or entity with which the former official or employee* has a financial interest.

  2. A former official or employee* may not accept employment with a party to a contract with the city, within a year after the contract was signed, when he or she participated substantially in the negotiation or award of the contract and the contract obliged the city to pay at least $50,000. Nor may an elected or appointed official accept any appointment or election by the body of which he or she is or was a member, to any position which carries with it any financial benefit or remuneration, until the expiration of one year after termination of his or her membership in or on such body.
  3. Excluded from these restrictions are officials and employees* who performed only ministerial acts* while working for the city.

Comment: If this bar creates a particular hardship for, say, a lawyer working on his own, the Ethics Commission may grant a waiver under 213.

"Personally worked" means the official actually worked on the matter, not that he or she supervised a department that worked on the matter.

Some municipalities may prefer a time limit greater than a year, but they should consider that the longer the bar, the more difficult it might be to hire qualified officials or find qualified candidates for office.

Allowing former officials to immediately work for the city as consultants would allow the official to continue to act in the city's interest, but such an exception would allow for sweetheart deals between the city and former officials, who normally have the edge in competing with vendors lacking their municipal contacts. Therefore, according to this subsection, a former official could consult to the city only on a volunteer basis.

This code seems to restrict former officials more than current officials. However, former officials are subject only to the revolving door and confidential information provisions, while current officials are subject to the entire panoply of restrictions in this code.

Another approach to the revolving door deals with the act of discussing or accepting employment while the official or employee* is still serving the city. The problem with this approach is that it requires proof of a quid pro quo, which is difficult, and ignores the appearance of impropriety that accompanies the revolving door. Here is typical language for this approach:

It is a violation of this code to discuss or accept an offer of future employment with any person doing or seeking to do business with the city if the official or employee* knows or has reason to believe that the offer of employment was or is intended, in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, as compensation or reward for an act or failure to act during the course of city employment or to influence city action.

The other side of the revolving door may also be dealt with in language like the following:

It is a violation of this code for an official or employee* to, within one year of entering city employment or service, award a contract or participate in an action benefitting a person that formerly employed him or her.

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Robert Wechsler says:

Colorado recently passed a law that requires departing legislators to take a two-year break before they may lobby the legislature. This has led several legislators to consider resigning before the change takes effect. This is an example of two things: one, the problem that can occur when a revolving-door provision has too long a cooling-off period, and two, how important it is to legislators to be able to lobby when they retire (or actually lose an election).

Of course, there are certainly others in Colorado who will think twice about running. The question is, is someone who wants to serve in local government in order to lobby or do business with government (or do these things more effectively) after a few years of service, really the sort of government official who will be working for the public interest?

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research-Retired, City Ethics