The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post reported on state Rep. Joe Stengel's resignation from the Colorado legislature, noting that the Littleton Republican cited Amendment 41 -- the "ethics in government" measure -- in announcing his early departure. Neither newspaper, however, mentioned an ethics investigation that prompted Stengel to resign as House minority leader earlier this year.
The December 6 editions of the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post reported on state Rep. Joe Stengel's (R-Littleton) early resignation from the Colorado legislature, apparently because of the ethics rules that will go into effect following the November 7 passage of Amendment 41. However, neither paper mentioned -- as they have in the past -- that Stengel resigned his post as House minority leader earlier this year at the outset of an ethics investigation that later determined he had "discredited the reputation of the General Assembly."
As the News reported on December 6, "Rep. Joe Stengel resigned from the legislature Tuesday, making him the third lawmaker to bow out weeks before the start of the new session because of the impact of Amendment 41." The News also reported that "Stengel, a Littleton Republican, was term-limited. He declined to comment, but he has been sending out resumes, seeking work in the legal field and in government relations."
Similarly, the Post reported, "Joe Stengel, R-Littleton, resigned his seat Tuesday to avoid the lobbying prohibition included in Amendment 41, joining two other recent resignations." The Post quoted Stengel as saying, " 'The provisions of 41 are so unclear that for me and my future it was the prudent thing to do.' "
Amendment 41 -- passed by voters on November 7 -- prohibits elected officials and government employees from accepting monetary or nonmonetary gifts worth more than $50. As the News noted, "A provision in the ballot measure [Amendment 41], billed as the 'ethics in government' issue, requires a two-year cooling off period for statewide elected officials and lawmakers before they can do business with former colleagues." The News and other media have reported that state Sens. Ron Teck (R-Grand Junction) and Dan Grossman (D-Denver) also have resigned before the end of their terms to avoid running into potential problems with Amendment 41 restrictions.
However, in their coverage of Stengel's resignation due to the "unclear" provisions of Amendment 41, neither the News nor the Post noted the recent ethics scandal that cost Stengel his House leadership post.
According to a March 1 article (subscription required) in the News, five of Stengel's constituents "formally requested an ethics investigation of his payroll billing practices" on February 28. The same article noted, "If a decision is made to proceed with an investigation, it will be a stunner, considering there has been only one other ethics investigation in the legislature in recent memory, in 1998." As the News reported:
The six lawmakers who serve in leadership -- three from the Senate and three from the House -- are eligible to receive $99 a day in the off-session when handling legislative matters.
Stengel last year billed a record 240 out of 247 days in the off-session collecting $23,760 in addition to the $30,000 pay all lawmakers receive.
He earlier told the News that the only days he took off were for seven major holidays and that he worked all the other days, including weekends.
"I take this job very seriously. I work 24-7," he said at the time.
When later questioned about the Hawaii trip, Stengel said he billed taxpayers because he worked every day he was on his vacation.
"There is no vacation from this job," he said. "I worked every day I was in Hawaii."
Following the launch of the House ethics investigation, the News reported (subscription required) on March 3 that "Republican Joe Stengel, of Littleton, resigned his post as House minority leader Thursday, saying issues about the pay he collected last year have become 'a major distraction not only for me but for my colleagues as well.' "
The findings of the ethics panel were reported in the April 12 editions of the Post and the News. According to the Post, "Former House Minority Leader Joe Stengel 'discredited the reputation of the General Assembly' when he claimed 'excessive' off-session pay, according to an ethics committee report released Tuesday. The report concludes an investigation launched after it was reported that Stengel, R-Littleton, took pay for working all but seven days after the legislature adjourned last year."
Similarly, the News reported, "Former House Minority Leader Joe Stengel 'discredited the reputation' of the legislature with his 'excessive' billing for work in the off session, including while vacationing in Hawaii, an ethics committee has determined." The News further reported that "[t]he Littleton Republican charged taxpayers for 240 out of 247 non-session days last year 'without regard for the consequences of his actions,' the committee wrote in a formal letter filed Tuesday." According to the News:
The House Ethics Committee earlier voted 3-2 to dismiss a complaint against Stengel, citing the vague per-diem rules and noting it was nearly impossible to reconstruct Stengel's calendar from last year.
Stengel has been under fire since February. He initially claimed he'd done nothing wrong because he worked "24-7" as minority leader.
In addition to billing while in Hawaii, he also charged taxpayers for the days he studied for the Colorado bar, the two days he took the bar and while campaigning against Refs C and D.
Stengel collected $23,760 of leadership pay -- an amount no other lawmaker in leadership in the past five years has come close to.
The Post also noted in its April 12 article that "[i]n a response to the complaint, Stengel said he claimed 237 days of pay, not 240. He also refunded the $891 he collected while on vacation in Hawaii and during the bar exam. Stengel later said he should have returned only $792 because the length of his vacation was miscounted."
In contrast to the Post's and News' reporting on Stengel's resignation, a December 6 Associated Press article posted on the Montrose Daily Press website about Stengel's resignation noted the prior ethics complaint. The Daily Press reported, "Stengel became the third legislator this week to resign before his term ends to avoid a two-year ban on lobbying by ex-lawmakers" under Amendment 41 and further noted:
He [Stengel] was elected into the House in 1998 and was named minority leader in November 2004. He stepped down from the leadership position in February after a complaint that he drew state pay while on vacation. He denied wrongdoing, and the House Ethics Committee later dismissed the complaint.
From the December 6 Rocky Mountain News article, "Lawmaker resigns, cites Amendment 41":
Rep. Joe Stengel resigned from the legislature Tuesday, making him the third lawmaker to bow out weeks before the start of the new session because of the impact of Amendment 41.
A provision in the ballot measure, billed as the "ethics in government" issue, requires a two-year cooling off period for statewide elected officials and lawmakers before they can do business with former colleagues.
By resigning before Amendment 41 becomes law -- which could happen any day now -- the lawmakers who had been scheduled to leave office Jan. 10 believe they won't be affected by the measure.
Stengel, a Littleton Republican, was term-limited. He declined to comment, but he has been sending out resumes, seeking work in the legal field and in government relations.
Two state senators, Republican Ron Teck, of Grand Junction, and Democrat Dan Grossman, of Denver, also have resigned. Teck was term-limited, and Grossman had chosen not to seek a second term.
Grossman said he reluctantly resigned because he believes Amendment 41 will affect his current job at Environmental Defense, an influential national group in which he serves as the Rocky Mountain regional director and senior attorney.
Voters in November approved Amendment 41, which also eliminates freebies for government employees, from the governor to snow- plow operators.
Critics say the measure has enormous unintended consequences, but supporters say the measure was designed to restore faith in government.
From the December 6 Denver Post news brief, "Stengel the third to resign over Amend. 41":
Rep. Joe Stengel, R-Littleton, resigned his seat Tuesday to avoid the lobbying prohibition included in Amendment 41, joining two other recent resignations.
"The provisions of 41 are so unclear that for me and my future it was the prudent thing to do," Stengel said.