The Denver Board of Ethics on Wednesday unanimously dismissed a complaint against Mayor Michael Hancock that alleged he violated the city's ethics code by traveling out of state during Thanksgiving despite urging residents to stay at home amid the pandemic.
"It was recognized that Denver citizens and employees are disappointed and were upset by the mayor's travel, and this board clearly does not condone that travel," said board Chair Joseph G. Michaels, senior assistant attorney general for Colorado. "However, it does not give rise to a violation of the code."
Tonia Wilson, in her complaint to the board, believed Hancock's violations included using his public office for private gain, and employing security and transportation resources to facilitate his travel.
"His refusal to follow his own orders also endangered the positions of other City employees who complied with the planning and execution of the Mayor’s trip," Wilson wrote.
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, while COVID-19 cases in Colorado escalated, Hancock posted a series of messages to social media, including one "pleading with everyone to stay home."
On Nov. 25, Hancock wrote, "I fully acknowledge that I have urged everyone to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel." He explained that his wife and daughter had been in Mississippi, and he perceived "it would be safer" to see them than vice versa.
"I apologize to the residents of Denver who see my decision as conflicting with the guidance to stay at home for all but essential travel," Hancock added.
After inviting the mayor's formal response and deliberating in closed session, the board agreed the police detail that accompanied Hancock to the airport would have occurred in any type of travel. That being the "weight of the evidence" before it, the board determined it had no jurisdiction over the issue.
Michaels said the mayor's behavior troubled the board, and offered a light verbal critique, explaining that the body "expects all public employees and elected officials to live up to the highest standard of ethical behavior."
Wilson, following the meeting, said she believed it likely the board would decline to sanction Hancock when she initiated the process, but she wanted to memorialize her concerns and those of other Denverites about Hancock's "hypocrisy."
"Time and again the Mayor makes 'mistakes' and apologizes – and moves on unscathed, leaving citizens feeling powerless," Wilson said. "I am glad I spoke up and brought additional visibility to the hypocrisy of the Mayor’s actions and the privilege afforded those in positions of power."
A spokesperson for Hancock said the mayor had been confident the Board of Ethics would render the decision that it did.
"The Mayor has acknowledged that his decision to visit his wife and daughter was a mistake," said Theresa Marchetta, "but should not distract from the administration’s mission to meet our residents’ needs during this pandemic, especially getting as many vaccinations in the arms of Denver residents as possible, efficiently and equitably."