Mayor Michael Hancock hopping on a plane during a pandemic to visit family after urging people not to travel on Thanksgiving may have been a bad look, but what he did wasn’t unethical, according to the Denver Board of Ethics.
Denverite Tonia Wilson filed a complaint against Hancock in November for his travel in November after urging city dwellers to stay home and avoid travel to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Hancock flew to Mississippi to visit family despite the advice of public health officials — and himself.
On Wednesday, a member of the city’s ethics board said Hancock’s travel “troubled” the group, but that making a ruling on his behavior was out of their hands.
“We have recognized that Denver citizens and employees are disappointed and were upset by the mayor’s travel. And this board certainly does not condone that travel,” said Joseph Michaels, the board chair. “However it does not give rise to a violation of the code.”
Wilson had accused Hancock of violating two sections of the city’s Code of Ethics: using public office for private gain and “aiding others” in violating the ethics code. Hancock did not use public funds for his trip, an investigation found. And while the Denver Police Department provided security for his trip, that’s typical of all mayoral trips, the board ruled.
The first part of the ethics code states that city officials should “adhere to high levels of ethical conduct, honesty, integrity and accountability, so that the public will have confidence that persons in positions of public responsibility are acting for the benefit of the public.” But even if Hancock violated the spirit of that idea, that particular clause is not enforceable, Michaels said. It is “an intents clause” and not an “actionable” clause, Michaels said.
Wilson, who filed the complaint against Hancock, tried to get a few words in during the public phone meeting, but Michaels cut her off.
“We appreciate your diligence in bringing this forward, but we’re not in a situation where we’re going to open up for public comment,” Michaels said. “We don’t do so as a matter of rule … It’s a very troubling allegation. But it is not one that violates the code of ethics as it stands.”
“I disagree,” said Wilson.
This article was updated to correct the month that Wilson filed the complaint, which was November, not January.