Fired city attorney accuses boss of breaking campaign law

September 9, 2009

A longtime city employee who was recently fired is accusing his former boss, City Attorney Patricia Kelly, of illegally using government resources to oppose a 2008 ballot initiative sponsored by anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce.

Thomas Marrese said Wednesday that Kelly forced his former colleague, Senior Attorney Shane White, to prepare a memo in violation of the Fair Campaign Practices Act. Mayor Lionel Rivera intended to use the memo, Marrese claimed, to marshal opposition to a ballot measure last fall that would have eliminated enterprise payments to the city.

When White objected to the assignment, saying it would be unethical and illegal to prepare the memo, Kelly “instructed Mr. White to continue to prepare the memo and to use some of his accumulated vacation hours to account for the time it took to perform this work,” Marrese said in an e-mail sent to Bruce and The Gazette.

Kelly ordered White to prepare the memo after the ballot title of Bruce’s initiative had been set, and, under the campaign law, a government entity can’t spend money to oppose or advocate for an initiative once that’s been done, he said.

“In my opinion, Ms. Kelly’s actions constituted the most egregious abuse of power that I have seen in more than 20 years with the City Attorney’s Office,” said Marrese, an assistant city attorney until he was fired last month.

Marrese, who earned $112,217 annually, did not elaborate on why he was fired, saying he is considering suing the city for wrongful termination.

Neither Kelly nor White returned calls for comment. Rivera could not be reached late Wednesday.

City spokeswoman Sue Skiffington-Blumberg said Kelly “abides by the law and upholds the law.”

“I would be surprised if these allegations are true,” she said. “I am sure that since the city attorney is appointed by council, if council feels there is reason to look into this further, they will do so.”

Bruce said he wasn’t surprised by the allegations. He called Kelly a “bad woman” and a “lawless city attorney” who is the “No. 1 enemy” of the petition process.

“She is the architect of all these absurd, bad faith, malicious attacks on our right to petition,” he said. “She is obsessed with doing anything and everything to block petitions.”

The 2008 ballot measure was rejected by voters, but Bruce collected enough signatures to place a similar initiative on the November ballot.

Marrese said he hadn’t disclosed the allegations until now because he was afraid it would cost him his job. After he was fired, he said he debated whether to go public.

“It was a scary decision because of the backlash that I might experience from peers or from people I worked with or from the city government,” he said.

The memo was widely talked about in the office, he said.

“It was kind of disbelief that (Kelly) did it,” he said.

When asked his motives for going public, Marrese gave two reasons: he was fired but he’s “somebody who’s also entrusted with seeing that the law is observed.”

“I felt that this was a pretty flagrant violation of the law, but that’s just my opinion,” he said. “If an investigation or people that specialize in this area of the law think otherwise, then so be it.”

Chantell Taylor, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, read Marrese’s e-mail at The Gazette’s request and said she didn’t think there was “anything actionable” against Kelly “since this likely occurred over 180 days ago.”

“But aside from the statute of limitations, one would have to prove that the city officials intended to use the memo to urge voters to vote against the initiative,” she said. “I don’t see any evidence one way or another on that here. Further, city officials are permitted under the statute to use government resources to prepare factual summaries that include arguments for and against the initiative, so we’d have to see what the memo says.”

Call the writer at 476-1623


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