DeMott calls for probe on use of tax information

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A Wheat Ridge councilman is asking for an investigation into whether a fellow council member and a city official engaged in improper activity for allegedly viewing sales tax receipts of individual businesses.

District IV Councilman Joseph DeMott emailed a complaint to the city attorney on July 31, requesting that he investigate possible wrongdoing on the part of District I Councilman Davis Reinhart, City Treasurer Larry Schultz, “and anyone else who was involved in this unethical behavior and breach of public trust ... “ according to the email, which was recently obtained by Colorado Community Media.

DeMott is concerned that Reinhart may have used sales tax information of individual businesses along the Ridge at 38 corridor “to see if business owners had been telling the truth” about them losing business as a result of the 38th Avenue road diet that was put in place about a year ago, according to his email.

DeMott, who is the owner of Pietra’s Pizza on West 44th Avenue, said in a recent interview that it bothers him that someone could walk into a city office and view individual businesses’ tax records.

DeMott said that tax receipt information that’s available to anyone in the public could have “many negative impacts” on a business, such as having an adverse effect on employee morale or the possibility that the information could give an upper hand to competitors.

“I want to know how he obtained it,” DeMott told Colorado Community Media. “Is it right or wrong for him to? I don’t know. I’m not trying to bash his character. But I think it needs to be found out.”

“I absolutely deny having done anything unethical,” Reinhart said in a phone interview. Reinhart did not wish to comment any further, citing the possibility of an investigation.

Reinhart did provide his side of things to council members and other city officials in a separate email that was obtained by Colorado Community Media. In the email, Reinhart acknowledged that he requested information on 38th Avenue businesses’ tax revenues from City Manager Patrick Goff during a recent study session.

Reinhart said in the email that Goff forwarded him a spreadsheet, but that he “shared the contents with no one.”

Goff has respectfully declined comment for this story.

Reinhart said in the email that his motives were pure.

“My intention was to try to understand what types of businesses were being hurt by the road diet,” Reinhart said in the email. “At no time have I questioned the veracity of the business owners reporting losses.”

Reinhart said in the email that he contacted City Attorney Gerald 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.”

DeMott is also concerned that Schultz may have also seen the tax receipts. Schultz provided basic information about the complaint process in a voicemail to Colorado Community Media, but said that he did not wish to provide further comment.

Dahl has refused to answer any questions, including those seeking clarity on existing city code having to do with obtaining business tax receipts.

However, Dahl did say in a response to DeMott’s email that “it is within the scope of my duties if so directed by the council …” Dahl said that if the council votes to move forward with an investigation, that he would review emails and “interview the persons involved.”

DeMott said he intends to ask Dahl to launch a formal investigation during the next city council meeting, scheduled for Aug. 12.