Council votes to investigate its own

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Wheat Ridge City Council on Aug. 12 voted to direct the city attorney to launch an investigation to determine whether a council member — and possibly other city officials — engaged in wrongdoing by allegedly viewing and/or disclosing sales-tax receipts of individual businesses in town.

The investigation will be far reaching at City Hall, with the city manager and city treasurer possibly being interviewed as part of the probe. But much of the attention is expected to focus on District I Councilman Davis Reinhart and how he may have obtained tax receipts for businesses located along the Ridge at 38 corridor.

Reinhart acknowledged to city officials in an email obtained by Colorado Community Media that he asked City Manager Patrick Goff for tax-revenue information on 38th Avenue businesses, but has denied doing anything improper.

“I welcome a complete and thorough and rapid investigation into this matter,” Reinhart said just before his colleagues voted unanimously to direct City Attorney Gerald Dahl to launch an investigation.

Reinhart abstained from voting and declined to comment any further, following the council meeting.

District IV Councilman Joseph DeMott put the probe in motion. On the heels of a formal complaint that he recently filed with the city attorney, DeMott also made the Aug. 12 motion directing Dahl to launch an “investigation into the leak of tax information to Councilor Reinhart from City Manager Patrick Goff, and to determine where else and to whom that tax information may have landed.”

DeMott, who owns Pietra’s Pizza on West 44th Avenue, expressed concern in his complaint that Reinhart may have used sales-tax information for individual businesses along the Ridge at 38 corridor “to see if business owners had been telling the truth” about losing business as a result of the controversial 38th Avenue road diet that was put in place a year ago.

Reinhart said in his email that he was not trying to “question the veracity of business owners.”

DeMott mentioned Reinhart by name in the email, along with City Treasurer Larry Schultz “and anyone else who was involved in this unethical behavior and breach of public trust.”

Reinhart is up for re-election in District 1 this fall in what is expected to be a competitive, multi-candidate race. However, DeMott — who is not a part of Reinhart’s district — said at the council meeting that his motives are not political.

“The timing of it was unfortunate,” DeMott said. “It was taken politically, but it certainly wasn’t political. It was a very legitimate concern of mine. I take the privacy of sales tax very seriously.”

Reinhart claims, in an emailed response to DeMott’s complaint, that he asked Goff for tax-revenue information of 38th Avenue businesses following a recent council study session. He acknowledges receiving a spreadsheet from Goff, the contents of which he says were shared with no one.

Reinhart said in the email that he contacted Dahl after learning that he “may not have been entitled to have the data.” And, on Dahl’s advice, he returned the spreadsheet information “and destroyed all the copies on my server to the best of my ability.”

Goff and Dahl have declined to comment on the matter.

DeMott’s motion to the council also seeks clarity from Dahl on what city code says about all of this, including DeMott’s wanting to determine what is the “true process of obtaining tax records and who is to be trusted with this information on a regular basis.”

DeMott distributed laws pertaining to the disclosure of private tax information to council members, from all levels of government.

The city of Wheat Ridge has an ordinance prohibiting city officials or employees from divulging confidential financial information “except in accordance with judicial order or as otherwise provided by law...”

“People ask is it legal?” DeMott said after the council meeting. “Well, I can’t say. The city attorney can tell us that. And he will tell us that.”

It will be up to the attorney who investigates this matter to determine whether city code was violated by anyone at City Hall, but the person tasked with that job may not be Dahl. The city attorney suggested at the Aug. 12 council meeting that either another attorney at his law firm or possibly an outside lawyer could end up taking on the investigation.

And DeMott is requesting that the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office conduct its own investigation.

Either Dahl or another attorney is expected to provide a report on the investigation to council members during the Aug. 26 council meeting.