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Denver councilwoman’s office seeks permission to hire girlfriend as paid staff

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DENVER -- The Denver Board of Ethics says it will grant a waiver to the office of Denver City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca so her live-in girlfriend can be hired as a paid staff member.

“We work long hours, including in the evening, and I don’t want Candi to go to events alone at night,” said Lisa Calderon, CdeBaca’s chief of staff who made the argument in front of the ethics board.

Calderon said CdeBaca had received death and rape threats during her campaign and was the victim of vandalism, and that is one reason she wanted an additional full-time staff member to support the councilwoman.

CdeBaca proposed hiring CdeBaca’s girlfriend, Kerrie Joy Landell, as a community engagement liaison.

“We already work together, the rapport is great, and I would be her direct supervisor because I’m aware of the issue of hiring family,” Calderon told the ethics board.

Landell would be considered a City Council aide if she were hired. At the low end, the salary would be at least $51,133, according to a document explaining the city’s pay ranges and job titles.

Calderon said Landell would also be organizing community meetings and responding to email on behalf of the office as part of her duties.

“I think that’s a strength to have someone who knows our district who fought for same principles for social and economic justice,” said Calderon.

While most of the board voted in favor of granting a waiver that contains accountability provisions to prevent CdeBaca from directly overseeing her girlfriend, one member, Jane Feldman, said she could not agree.

“This seems really to be kind of directly on point as to why we have anti-nepotism laws, so this really bothers me,” she said before voting no. Feldman said even with provisions to prevent a conflict of interest, a conflict might be hard to avoid since the paid staff is so small. With Landell’s hire, CdeBaca's staff would be three people.

John Holcomb, the chairman of the University of Denver’s Department of Business Ethics and Legal Studies in the Daniels College of Business, said he is disappointed but not surprised in the ethics board's decision.

“Waivers are too often sought, which demean the value and degrade the value of the ethics code. If you have a statement, you should live by it,” he told the FOX31 Problem Solvers.

Holcomb said nepotism is one of the worst ethical violations. He said unless there is no other person who could be hired for the position, he would advise against granting a waiver.

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