An Overture Center employee has has filed an ethics complaint against city officials for a perceived conflict of interest in the ongoing review process of the city’s funding model to purchase the building.
The city’s Ethics Board must now respond to various ethics complaints cited by Overture theater technician and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 60 member Davin Pickell, who has been a vocal critic of the city’s funding model.
The ethics complaints come after Pickell himself was accused of an ethics code violation for loaning books to the Overture Ad Hoc Committee in hopes of helping them with their decision regarding ownership of the art center.
“Our perception was that you have a bunch of citizens where they were forced to make a really fast decision about what to do with an art center,” Pickell said. “If the management of the Overture Center is not good at running it, it would be like saying what the city thinks about heart surgery. No one would expect them to make a fast decision about heart surgery.”
Pickell’s ethics complaint against ad hoc committee member Deirdre Garton and Overture President Tom Carto stem from Garton allegedly using the company computer to send an email to Overture subscribers, which violates the “privilege and advantage” component of the Code of Ethics.
According to Pickell’s complaint, Garton sent this e-mail in response to Pickell’s distribution of the books, which she believed carried subliminal messages trying to get people to vote against privatization, Pickell said.
Pickell said the use of the company computer to send this e-mail was the extent of the Carto and Garton ethics complaint but that more are on their way.
However, Overture spokesperson Rob Chappell argued the ethics complaints filed by Pickell had no foundation for merit.
“Without legal foundation or merit, there’s nothing done that was inappropriate or ethically questionable in our communication with our patrons and supporters and people in the community,” Chappell said.
An ethics complaint against Mayor Dave Cieslewicz stems from Cieslewicz’s plan to privatize the Overture Center for the Arts in an attempt to combat the $28 million debt the center has accumulated.
Rachel Strauch-Nelson, a spokesperson for Cieslewicz, declined to comment on the ethics complaint.
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, a member of the city’s Overture Center Ad Hoc Committee, said that the complaints are more of a separate issue in regards to a bigger issue: the future of the Overture Center.
“I really would find it hard to believe that any of the three ethics complaints either taken individually or as a whole would influence the city council to any serious degree as we consider the Overture Center question,” Verveer said.
In terms of filing an ethics complaint, Pickell said the initial process was tedious and said that navigating the city website to file a complaint was a cumbersome task.
“Most of the website is not updated. I’m pretty sure if I wanted to, that’s an ethics code violation. It doesn’t look like the mayor is all that interested in people filing ethics code complaints because if he was, he might make the process a little easier,” Pickell said.