Sure, Wayne Williams now sits on the Colorado Springs City Council while his wife, Holly Williams, serves as an El Paso County commissioner, but the newly minted councilman is hard-pressed to see an issue.
Spouses, partners and friends aside, conflicts of interest are ever-present, Wayne Williams said. But elected officials are expected to recuse themselves when presented with such a conflict.
Wayne Williams pledged to recuse himself if such an occasion arises, but he strained himself trying to think of an example that might arise with his wife.
Holly Williams echoed that promise and laughed as she noted that she’s not married to a city councilman. Rather, he’s married to a county commissioner, she said.
“Certainly if there are any conflicts, we would both recuse ourselves,” Holly Williams said.
The couple might cross paths in their official positions, but that wouldn’t automatically qualify as a conflict, Wayne Williams said. Both would be expected to represent their respective constituents and neither is afraid of disagreeing with the other, he said.
While Wayne Williams represents the entire city, Holly Williams’ district only touches the northeast portion of the county. Her full district spans north to the Douglas County line, including Monument and straddling Interstate 25 as far south as Dublin Boulevard and Vickers Drive in Colorado Springs.
Turf shared by the Williamses includes the Air Force Academy, about 180 acres of which was recently annexed into the city by the council so a new visitors center could be built.
It’s customary for county commissioners to be consulted before those types of annexations, said Wayne Williams, who served two terms as a commissioner and as county clerk and recorder before becoming Colorado secretary of state. But had the spouses been serving on the city and county at the time of the annexation there still wouldn’t have been a problem, he said.
“Neither of us have a personal stake in the issue,” Wayne Williams said. “Neither of us are personally gaining anything from it. It’s simply governments working cooperatively.”
One benefit to the community, Holly Williams said, is that she and her husband could double down on mutually beneficial tasks, such as asking the Colorado Department of Transportation for more funds.
Asked whether the Williamses’ relationship would bring any new considerations to the council’s actions in the future, City Attorney Wynette Massey merely referred to the city’s code of ethics and the City Council Rules and Procedures.
The Colorado Springs City Charter prohibits officials from using privileged information for personal gain or “to further the financial or personal interest of an immediate family member.” The county’s code of conduct offers a similar take.
If a council member is presented with a conflict of interest they are expected to excuse themselves from any related vote, the council’s rules and guidelines stipulate. Such recusals aren’t considered oddities and they’re carried out with little discussion. Occasionally Council President Richard Skorman will recuse himself from a vote that might affect his downtown businesses. Other times council members will refrain from voting on matters involving those known to them personally.
Perhaps a situation could arise where Wayne Williams said he could be hired by the county or Holly Williams could be hired by the city. “But I don’t foresee that as being even a remote possibility,” he said.
Williams said while on council he’ll moonlight as an election consultant. Recently he was contracted by the city of Broomfield and also completed some work in Atlanta.
“The only thing I can think of … would be if the county were hiring me as an election consultant. And that would be something where Holly would recuse herself,” he said.
The Williamses certainly are not the first political power couple in Colorado.
Former U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley held Colorado’s 5th Congressional District at the same time that his wife, Lynn Hefley, served as a state representative. Similarly, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck and his ex-wife, state Rep. Perry Buck, served concurrent terms. Both Bucks remain in office to this day.
If concerns or complaints arise, Wayne Williams said he’s happy to address them. But it’s not as though his marriage should come as a surprise to anybody.
“It’s not like it wasn’t open,” he said. “The voters knew that when they made the decision. The voters knew that Holly was a commissioner and was married to me when they elected her by 41 points and they knew I was married to Holly when they elected me.”