A majority of Wheat Ridge’s city council is backing an embattled colleague’s re-election bid in what will be a multi-candidate race this fall.
Five of the city’s eight council members posed for a campaign photo in support of District I Councilman Davis Reinhart outside of City Hall on Aug. 18 — less than a week after the council unanimously (7-0 with Reinhart abstaining) called on the city attorney to launch an investigation into whether Reinhart or other city officials engaged in wrong-doing for viewing or disclosing sales tax receipts of individual businesses in town.
The timing of the endorsement is being questioned by the council member who put the sales tax receipt probe in motion.
“It surprised me because there’s an ongoing investigation,” District IV Councilman Joseph DeMott said. “I don’t know if they’re just saying, ‘To hell with the investigation. We support him no matter what.’”
But backers of Reinhart’s re-election bid say their endorsement is a non-issue.
“To me, it’s just like the courts. People are innocent until proven guilty,” said District II Councilwoman Kristi Davis.
The council voted on Aug. 12 to direct City Attorney Jerry Dahl to investigate whether it was proper for Reinhart to have obtained sales tax receipts from businesses located along Wheat Ridge’s “downtown” 38th Avenue corridor. Also at question is how Reinhart gained access to those records. Reinhart acknowledged to city officials that he asked City Manager Patrick Goff for tax-revenue information on 38th Avenue businesses, but denied doing anything improper.
Six days after the council voted to move forward with the investigation, council members Davis, George Pond, Tracy Langworthy, Joyce Jay and William “Bud” Starker held a Sunday morning gathering outside of city council for the purposes of taking a campaign photo in support of Reinhart.
DeMott — who filed the motion to direct Dahl to investigate the matter during the Aug. 12 meeting — questioned Davis about the meeting during an Aug. 13 council study session, where Davis acknowledged “being in a photo to support (Reinhart) in his campaign.”
District III Councilman Mike Stites did not participate in the photo.
Reinhart declined comment for this story.
Although DeMott has questioned the appropriateness of the “secret” meeting, the city did give the proper 24-hour public notice that is required whenever two or more council members get together for city-related business.
Still, DeMott said he’s worried that council members who are endorsing Reinhart might not act objectively if they end up having to take action against him, if the investigation shows any impropriety.
“How does that make the investigation even necessary?” DeMott said. “Is it even going to matter?”
But Davis said that endorsing Reinhart’s candidacy does not mean she won’t be able take the proper action against her colleague, if things get to that point.
“At this point, I support him,” she said. “But if the investigation causes me to rethink my support, I’m going to do so.”
Both Davis and Pond spoke highly of Reinhart during recent interviews. But Pond, a District III council member, also suggested that the time has come for Mayor Jerry DiTullio — one of Reinhart’s opponents in the race — to step away from city politics.
DiTullio, who has been involved in city government for 18 years, is term-limited as mayor. He lives in District 1 and has made it clear that he will run for Reinhart’s seat.
“It does not mean that I don’t support the mayor,” said Pond. “I don’t support the mayor being elected as a council member. That’s different.”
Pond believes that DiTullio “cares about the community quite a bit,” but that the mayor should considering “serving in another capacity, at a higher level.”
“I think there’s a reason why we have term limits,” Pond said.
DiTullio, who has said in prior interviews that Wheat Ridge residents should be the ones to determine whether he’s served long enough, said that it is “highly irregular” for council members who are not involved in the race to play this kind of role.
“I find it interesting that five members from other districts are involving themselves in the District I race,” the mayor said.
Aside from DiTullio, Reinhart’s competition will include Monica Duran, who is member of the city’s Planning Commission, and Karen Thaler, a former council candidate who is also a former Mrs. Wheat Ridge.
As for the investigation, Dahl told council members during their Aug. 26 meeting that he expects to provide them with attorneys’ findings before their next meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 9.