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  • Dylan Anderson

Steamboat Clerk wants changes to YVHA presentation after ‘likely violation’ of fair campaigning law

Housing authority executive director says the organization will work with the city to ensure the presentation complies with the city’s interpretation of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.


Steamboat Springs City Clerk Julie Franklin is asking for changes to a community presentation being given by the Yampa Valley Housing Authority after concluding a “majority” of Brown Ranch-related slides constituted “urging electors,” according to the final decision about fair campaigning complaints released on Wednesday.


The Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act, which the city has incorporated into its code, does not allow organizations like YVHA to expend public funds over $50 on activities that are seen to “urge electors.”


“I conclude that the principal purpose of the community presentation is election advocacy and not project planning and is therefore likely a violation of Section 117,” Franklin writes.


In her decision, Franklin notes that her “assessment is somewhat subjective in nature,” and writes that the best way forward would be for her office to do nothing in exchange for YVHA removing the slides from the presentation and removing recordings of the presentation from its website.


“I find that the public interest would be served by this office taking no further action on the portions of the complaints relating to the community presentation on the condition that YVHA cure the alleged violation,” Franklin wrote.  


Reached by phone Wednesday, YVHA Executive Director Jason Peasley said they would work with the city to edit the community presentation so that it aligned with the city’s interpretation of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.


“There was no actual finding that we did anything wrong, but they want to see us make some changes to our presentation because it’s sort of vague where the line is,” Peasley said. “We intend to make those changes and we’re working collaboratively with the city to make sure our presentation is on the correct side of the line as they see it.”


Peasley said that YVHA intends to continue to give an edited version of the community presentation in the coming weeks.


“The reason being that is it’s important for us as an organization to continue to be accessible, transparent and open and provide information to the community about what it is we do,” Peasley said.


There have been three Fair Campaign Practices Act complaints filed with the city against YVHA. After Wednesday’s decision, all but the community presentation allegation has been dismissed as not being a violation of the fair campaigning law.  

 

Community presentations

In her decision, Franklin found that a majority of slides that described the Brown Ranch in the presentation would constitute “urging electors” according to her interpretation of the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act.


As an employee of YVHA, Peasley is allowed to express his opinion regarding annexation and spend up to $50 in housing authority funds to do that. Franklin says this crosses the line into electioneering because more than $50 was likely spent to put on these presentations.


YVHA is allowed to talk about Brown Ranch and give updates on project planning, even if that communication could potentially sway someone’s vote on annexation. But Franklin finds that slides in the presentation did not generally focus on future planning, rather they talked more about decisions that had already been made.


“YVHA has taken the position that the Community Presentation consists of permissible ongoing project planning,” Franklin writes. “I find that the Brown Ranch Slides focus on project decisions that have already been made and incorporated into the executed annexation agreement such as the parks plan, infrastructure financing, the affordability/attainability provisions, recreation center, water availability, and US Hwy 40 improvements.”


The community presentation does not reference the annexation vote, other than a version of the document that has a timeline slide that includes the date of the election.


In her decision, the city clerk acknowledges that her “assessment is somewhat subjective in nature,” and that relevant court precedent doesn’t “provide much guidance as to how to determine what degree of favorable characterization of a project constitutes ‘urging electors to vote in favor’ of Brown Ranch Annexation.”


“For the foregoing reasons, I find that the public interest would be served by this office taking no further action on the portions of the complaints relating to the community presentation on the condition that YVHA cure the alleged violation,” Franklin wrote.


This cure would require three things. First, YVHA needs to remove the reference to the March 26 vote from the presentation. Second, YVHA needs to “cease the use of the Brown Ranch slides for any other purpose.” Lastly, the decision asks that YVHA remove any links to the presentation or videos of the presentation from its websites.


Peasley said YVHA would work with the city to make the changes to the presentation needed to comply with their view of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

 

Brown Ranch fact sheet

As part of her decision, Franklin dismissed aspects of the fair campaigning complaint related to various fact sheets because they had been produced before the Brown Ranch Annexation referendum window.


There were three fact sheets in question here. The first is a YVHA Fact Sheet, which Franklin noted did not mention Brown Ranch at all and therefore did not constitute “urging electors.”


Two more fact sheets that focused on the Brown Ranch did “consist of an entirely positive assessment of the Brown Ranch project,” Franklin said. But while these documents could be seen as “urging electors,” Franklin decided that because they were created before the Brown Ranch Referendum Campaign period, this did not constitute an unlawful expenditure of public funds.


Even though these fact sheets have remained on YVHA websites, Franklin said that there was no evidence that this has increased cost and therefore this is not a violation of the fair campaigning law either.


“The production of the Fact Sheets/Flyers by YVHA staff and/or communications consultants prior to the Brown Ranch Referendum Campaign period does not constitute an unlawful expenditure of public funds,” Franklin wrote. “Similarly, there is no evidence that YVHA continuing to host the Fact Sheets/Flyers on the YVHA websites incurs any incremental costs to YVHA. In the absence of increased costs to YVHA, the continued use of the website to host the Fact Sheets/Flyers is not an unlawful expenditure.”

 

Communications consultant

A lingering aspect of the third elections complaint filed with the city alleged that YVHA’s decision to hire a communications consultant constituted a violation of campaigning law, but Franklin said she did not see this as a separate allegation in the complaint.


“I do not view this section of the complaint as alleging a separate and distinct violation of Section 117,” Franklin wrote. “Instead, I interpret this section of the complaint as providing evidence in support of the violations alleged in other sections. To the extent this section is intended to allege violations independent [the complaint], it is hereby dismissed.”


Read City Clerk Julie Franklin's entire decision:

ConsolidateElectionComplaintsNotice March5
.pdf
Download PDF • 254KB

Top Photo Caption: A rendering of the Brown Ranch. (Yampa Valley Housing Authority/Courtesy)

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