The Ethics Advisory Commission voted 3-2 to dismiss the ethics complaint against District 14 City Council member Paul Ridley.
Kristin Scholer brought the charge against Ridley after he used a City Charter provision to remove her from the Redistricting Commission. In front of the City Council at the Aug. 25 meeting, Ridley said he had made “multiple attempts” to communicate with Scholer, including a phone call where he said he left a voice message. Scholer acknowledged receiving the same letter Ridley sent to all Board and Commission members asking for their resignation but not sending Ridley any response. She has no record of any further communication from Ridley and believed he was untruthful in his attempts at further communication.
For the third time in as many public meetings, Scholer personally testified to make her case, supplying phone records from mobile phone provider T-Mobile showing no record of any phone call from Paul Ridley. Her presentation also included what she believed to be other inconsistencies in Ridley’s statements and actions.
Ridley was represented by Philip Kingston, former District 14 Council member and a supporter of Ridley’s campaign to reclaim the District 14 seat for the crowd David Blewett defeated in the 2019 Council election.
Kingston had the opportunity to cross-examine Scholer and peppered her with 52 questions. After accusing Scholer’s husband of wearing a David Blewett T-shirt at a polling place, Ethics Commission Chairman Tim Powers stepped in and admonished Kingston that it is “most appropriate to stay focused on whether Ridley’s truthfulness or lack thereof is a violation of the City’s ethics code.” Sanity prevailed for a few minutes until Kingston compared Scholer’s lack of response to Ridley’s letter asking for a resignation to Kingston’s grandmother sending him a birthday present and Kingston not sending her a thank-you note.
Kingston called witnesses including Ridley and both members of Ridley’s office staff, Max Sanchez and Kayleigh Rice.
Sanchez and Rice both signed affidavits and testified hearing Ridley receive Scholer’s phone number from Sanchez and placing a call to her.
At its core, this was “he said, she said.” Did Ridley tell the truth when he told the Council he made “multiple attempts” to communicate with Scholer? Scholer had her phone records. A city-generated record of outgoing phone calls from Ridley’s office would answer this for everyone. Alas, Ridley was unable to counter with any phone records because the City deletes all phone records after 30 days. With Sanchez and Rice’s testimony abetting Ridley’s version, it then became a question of “she said, they said.” Scholer was outnumbered.
Five of the seven Ethics Commission members were present for the hearing on the three separate violations that Ridley was accused of: acting with integrity, treating others with respect and considering the public perception of their actions.
The Commission was reminded that there must be “clear and convincing evidence” to support an ethics complaint. It’s a high bar, and it should be a high bar.
Commission member Cassandra Hernandez felt Ridley’s public statement that he made “multiple attempts” was disingenuous enough to vote in support of the complaint. Commission member Raha Assadi felt the same way.
Commissioner Thomas Perkins disagreed, saying he didn’t find “sufficient evidence to support the allegation of an intentional lie.”
Commissioner Grant Schmidt encouraged the commission to “zoom out and determine if somebody has a lack of integrity because of the distinction between one call and multiple calls.” He noted the testimony of Sanchez and Rice as factors weighing in his decision to support Ridley’s position.
In the end, Powers, Schmidt and Perkins didn’t see enough “clear and convincing evidence” to support Scholer’s view. The vote was 3-2 to dismiss each of the three reported violations.
What does a 3-2 vote mean? For some, it is vindication for Ridley. For others, it’s a single vote away from Ridley being labeled disingenuous at best or untruthful at worst.
After the hearing, Scholer said, “Based on the city’s process and rules around the ethics complaints, I knew the cards were stacked against me. I hope this experience leads City officials to take ethics complaints more seriously and treat our citizen volunteers with the respect they deserve.”
The Advocate reached out to Ridley and his office for any post-hearing comments. Ridley chose not to make any statement.