Ethics debate heats up with Denver City Council and watchdog groups

DENVER -- Should Denver city officials be entitled to seemingly endless business class travel from Denver International Airport?

That was the debate between watchdog groups and city officials Thursday.

As first reported by Colorado Public Radio, from 2013 to 2017, Denver city officials received more than $400,000 in travel benefits from Denver International Airport.

The question becomes: Is that ethical?

The answer: Depends who you ask.

City officials say yes because they believe DIA is an agency of the city of Denver and therefore gifts from DIA aren't like gifts from lobbyists or private companies.

Many watchdog groups disagree.

Emily Williams with DIA says it's perfectly alright -- and necessary -- for the airport to use their funds to fly elected officials around the world. It helps promote the airport, Williams said.

"These are trips budgeted by Denver International Airport, we have an enterprise fund not taxpayer dollars, and the benefit we get from taking these trips are good for the city it's good for the airport," Williams said.

Susan Barnes-Gelt is a former city council member who helped write original ethic codes in the city.

"I think it's a straight-out violation of ethical conduct and the intent of the ethics code," Barnes-Gelt said. "It was never the intent of the code to create these kinds of loopholes."

The law appears poised to soon change.

Councilman Kevin Flynn has introduced an ordinance allowing for agencies such as the airport to be exempt from standard ethics laws.

Flynn has also introduced a transparent measure requiring trips -- such as those from the airport -- to be reported.

It "confirms the original understanding and intent of the law," Flynn said in an email.

But the Denver Ethics Board disagrees -- and it has publicly rebuked the proposal.

"The outcome should be to avoid special influence from everyone -- including people who work for the city giving gifts paid for by taxpayers as well as gifts outside the city," Patrick Tooley with the Denver Ethics Board said.

RELATED: Letter written by Flynn to the Ethics Board

RELATED: Letter written from the Ethics Board

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