CHEYENNE – Is a pickup truck loaned to an elected official by a local dealership a gift in possible violation of ethics law?
That’s what some social media followers and at least one city councilman are asking since a Dodge truck was loaned to Mayor Marian Orr by Cowboy Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram last Friday in advance of Cheyenne Frontier Days.
But Orr told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on Wednesday the issue is a non-issue because she doesn’t consider the truck loan a gift.
“I cleared it with legal,” Orr said. “It’s not any violation of state statute, which is the law that I’m governed by. The personnel and purchasing issues that have been brought up in social media, when it comes to officials, we’re governed by state statute.”
On her Facebook page, Orr said the dealership’s new owner, Doug Moreland, thought the mayor should have a loaner vehicle for use during Cheyenne Frontier Days. The white truck is also personalized with Orr’s name and her position as mayor.
Dodge is a CFD corporate sponsor for this year’s event. Orr added that the dealership is providing red Dodge vehicles for CFD committee chairmen.
Orr said it was a “kind gesture” for the dealership to include the mayor’s office.
“For those who say, ‘Well, no other mayor has had that in the past’ – of course not, this is a new owner of a dealership,” she said.
Orr added she would only use the vehicle for CFD events and that she didn’t expect to put more than 20 miles on the truck. She also said the dealership is paying for fuel for the vehicle.
“The city is not paying for anything,” she said.
City Council President Rocky Case said he has not consulted an attorney, but expressed concern that the loaner truck is considered a gift, which would violate ethics laws.
“The state statute is very clear and explicit that gifts above $250 are a violation,” Case said. “The statute is also crystal clear that the item can be returned within 30 days unused. Nobody thinks that the city bought it. No one thinks that ‘Dealing Doug’ gave it to her, but certainly there is a value with the use of a vehicle, whether or not the city is paying for gas.”
Ethics laws – in this case Wyoming’s Ethics and Disclosure Act, passed in 1998 – restrict gifts to elected officials to prevent the possibility that a gift could appear to influence official action, according to a Wyoming Legislative Service Office publication.
State statute says, “no public official, member or employee shall use office or position for the receipt of a gift which resulted from his holding that office.”
The statute defines “gift” as “anything of value to the extent that consideration of equal or greater value is not received.”
“Anything of value” is defined by statute to include almost anything which is “pecuniary or compensatory in value to a person.”
Visits on Wednesday to nationally known vehicle rental company websites indicated that the basic rate for renting a full-size pickup at Denver International Airport today and returning it on July 28 ranged from $1,030 to $1,179, well above the $250 threshold allowed by law.
In addition to a possible violation of statute, Case said the optics look bad.
“There’s no way I would have accepted that,” he said. “I would have graciously said, ‘Thank you, I appreciate the thought, but no thank you.’”
Orr said the dealership’s “gesture” would not affect any decisions the city might make regarding any future bidding or other business.
“I’m not receiving anything of value,” she said. “That argument would be as ridiculous as to say, ‘I was invited to participate in a dinner honoring Wyoming State Bank’s 100 years in service and so now the city is only going to do business with that bank.’ I support all of our small businesses, and we have very clear laws when it comes to conflict of interest.”
Exceptions to the definition of “gift” were amended by the Legislature in 1999.
According to the Wyoming Legislative Service Office, exceptions to the definition of “gift” include:
- printed information
- a gift which is not used and returned within 30 days
- a gift which is donated to charity (so long as the recipient does not claim a deduction on his income tax)
- a gift or inheritance from the elected official’s family, a personal friend or from someone based upon a social or private business relationship
- a gift of nominal value given in recognition of a special occasion, such as marriage, illness or retirement
- a certificate, token or item or plaque with a value of $250 or less
- compensation, per diem or other payments to which the legislator is entitled under law for the performance of services
- food and beverage
- any loan, gift, gratuity, special discount or hospitality with a value of $250 or less
- travel, registration and lodging for any conference or meeting while attending in official capacity as a legislator