In a decision released Thursday, the Denver Ethics Board called for tougher punishment for a Denver building official who meddled with an inspection for his private business. It found Scott Prisco, the engineer, architect director and building official for the City and County of Denver, used his position to lean on inspectors and used city resources to work on his private business.
The board found Prisco used his position to lean on inspectors and used city resources to work on his private business. The government body issued its final decision on Thursday, but can’t do more than ask for further discipline for Prisco.
Lori Weiser, Denver Board of Ethics executive director, said he should face more repercussions.
“Some of the board members say it wasn’t taken seriously,” Weiser said. “There needs to be some sort of implementation of discipline. We as the board may never know because human resource decisions are confidential. There were members who were very disappointed by the response from [Community Planning and Development].”
Prisco also runs Hip Homes, LLC with his wife, Jeanne Prisco. The company builds sustainable homes in Denver. In January, the Denver Ethics Board said Scott Prisco used public office for private gain.
Scott Prisco did not respond to a request for comment. Jeanne Prisco answered her phone but said she could not talk because she was in the middle of a hair appointment.
The ethics decision said Scott Prisco’s actions put an inspector in an “untenable” position by getting involved with the inspections of one of his businesses' Denver properties despite explicit directions not to. Scott Prisco’s actions amounted to “misusing his role and authority as an officer of the city.”
“Mr. Prisco’s conduct fundamentally undermines the public’s trust and confidence in city employees,” the decision reads.
Laura Swartz, communications director for Denver’s Community Planning and Development, said the punishment matched the violation.
“We did take the situation very seriously we did put in place actions at the time to remove Mr. Prisco’s oversight of the project and have gone a step farther to remove his approval to have any outside business,” Swartz said.
Weiser said their actions were not enough.
“The board feels like the steps put in place by CPD are steps that should have been in place initially and don’t equal discipline,” she said.
Laura Aldrete, the executive director for the City and County of Denver’s Community Planning & Development, said in a January statement at the time of the decision that Scott Prisco made “honest mistakes” that won’t happen again. Scott Prisco will keep his job, but will not be allowed to be involved with Hip Homes.
“It is extremely important to me that we at Community Planning and Development do our jobs with integrity and skill,” Aldrete said in an email. “While I believe these were honest mistakes made by Mr. Prisco, I want to assure the public and our staff that we have taken corrective actions to prevent this type of situation from arising again in the future.”
Weiser said categorizing Scott Prisco’s actions as “honest mistakes” is problematic because he should have known what he was not allowed to do because of a 2018 advisory opinion from the Denver Ethics Board.
Swartz pointed out that Scott Prisco only had one project in Denver and after there were problems with it, he was not given a second opportunity to have another one.
9Wants to Know reached out to Mayor Michael Handcock’s office about whether more punishment is necessary. Theresa Marchetta, director of strategic communications and media policy for the Denver mayor’s office, said in a text that it was “handled accordingly” by the proper department and would have to “defer to CPD leadership.”
As 9Wants to Know previously reported, Scott Prisco said in an October 2019 letter responding to ethics complaints against him that his interactions with inspectors were designed to clear the air.
“This got back to me that there was a significant amount of rumbling within the teams,” he wrote. “Therefore, I wanted to be very transparent with the inspectors so as not to have them influenced by my position and their current inspections and future inspections.”
The decision took issue with how often Prisco went against the written guidance that he was given from a 2018 advisory opinion from the Denver Ethics Board.
The opinion said Prisco should:
Remove himself if any issues came up on any Denver Hip Homes projects, especially around permitting and inspections.
Don’t use city time or resources to work on private business
Don’t use your city position to promote your private business.
Instead, the decision found:
He spoke with a Denver inspector about a problem with a Denver home.
He used city time to hold a meeting, made at least one phone call and sent emails.
He used a Twitter account featuring his official title and role with the city of Denver to promote a Hip Homes, LLC event.
The Denver Ethics Board said the response from Scott Prisco’s boss fell short of what should be in place. The decision said those protections should have already been enacted and were “explicitly called for.”
“Mr. Prisco’s conduct flagrantly disregarded that advisory opinion's directives, which would have prevented the impropriety and the appearance of impropriety, and the City’s image is the worse for it,” the decision read.
The board said it can’t punish Scott Prisco and that responsibility falls to the executive director of the Department of Community Planning and Development.
“It is the Board’s hope that Mr. Prisco’s appointing authority will take this public censure seriously and will discipline Mr. Prisco accordingly,” the decision read.
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