Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Tibbs Cries Foul

Posted By on Wed, Aug 1, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Jim Tibbs is looking for an issue.

Earlier today the mayoral candidate announced he is filing an ethics complaint against Mayor Dave Bieter for what he sees as a case of political payback. Tibbs made the announcement during a press conference on the steps of City Hall.

In his complaint, Tibbs states that by recommending the Gallatin Group, the city’s contracted legislative relations consultant, to forward the cause of a statewide transportation plan in the coming year, Bieter, in effect, funneled taxpayer money to a company owned by a member of his own campaign finance committee. The contract is worth $65,000.

While Tibbs admits that Bieter did disclose his relationship with Marc Johnson, president of the Gallatin Group, and recused himself from any discussion or decision on the matter, he believes there are still improprieties.

“This is why people don’t trust political figures,” Tibbs said during his announcement.

As evidence, Tibbs provided copies of Bieter’s 2006 financial report showing two checks issued to the Gallatin Group by the campaign for the expressed purpose of training. Tibbs said this business relationship was not fully disclosed, and that even if Johnson is not working directly on the transportation issue, he will indirectly profit from the city contract.

Tibbs also said that Bieter failed to provide any alternatives for service.

When asked if any of his own campaign contributors have any city contracts, Tibbs said he didn’t know. He also said he did not know if any laws had been broken, but said that’s the job of the city ethics committee.

Tibbs alluded to the mayor manipulating the City Council agenda to discuss the issue when Tibbs wasn’t present. The contract was discussed during a Council meeting on July 24, after Tibbs had left the meeting for a doctors appointment. It was not discussed during the July 31 meeting. Bieter’s original memo to the City Council on the issue was sent on July 20.

For Bieter, the accusations don’t hold any weight.

“Frankly, when you don’t have any subjects to talk about, you start mudslinging, and that’s what this is,” Bieter said. “If he had any issues with this, he should have said something in Council.”

He added that he considers the ethics charge a slap against the other council members, who agreed to move forward with the contract, which will be brought back to the council as a resolution for final approval in the near future.

Tibbs’ accusations are being called political grandstanding by his peers.

“His hobby of running for mayor is getting in the way of his job as a council member,” Bieter said

Council member Maryanne Jordan shared Bieter’s opinion. “We have a council member who, in my mind, isn’t doing the job he was elected to do,” she said. “He needs to do his job as a council member first, and run for mayor second.”

Jordan said she has spoken with the other four members of the council, and they all share her concerns. “He’s cherry-picking issues off the agenda for his campaign.”

She said it’s standard procedure for the council to rearrange agenda items if there is a scheduling conflict, or to readdress an issue if needed. “This was a deliberate political-theater choice,” Jordan said.

These personal conflicts are common, Bieter said, adding that every council member has had to excuse him or herself to avoid any perceived conflicts. Jordan said she feels the mayor when out of his way to follow procedure, including the disclaimer in a memo to the council, posting it online, and leaving the room when the issue was discussed and decided.

"The councilman is choosing to play politics with it,” said Ryan Hill, Bieter's campaign manager. “He’s choosing to have the debate at a press conference rather than where he should as a councilman.”

Hill also pointed out that Bieter is the one who created the city ethics council and created a process for ethics complaints to be dealt with, and that the decision was up to the council, not Bieter.

Tibbs freely admitted that he was making the ethics complaints as a candidate for mayor, and that he had not spoken to any other members of the City Council about the issue.

“I’m standing up here as Jim Tibbs, candidate for mayor,” he said.

Tibbs filed the complaint this morning, and has asked for an initial report by Aug. 15.

Watch for further updates.

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