Complaint raises question of ethics, nepotism in Riverdale as election nears

Oct 25 2013 - 5:18am

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Cody Hansen
Cody Hansen

RIVERDALE -- Cody Hansen has always been interested in Riverdale politics.

A lifelong resident, Hansen served on the city's very first youth council back in high school. And he has never been shy about shooting off his mouth over things he thinks the city should or shouldn't be doing. Running for office seemed like the logical next step.

"In my mind, I figured if I'm going to talk, I ought to put myself out there," he said.

Ordinarily, such civic-mindedness would be roundly commended. But not so fast.

Cody Hansen, the current Riverdale city council candidate, just happens to be the son of Larry Hansen, the current Riverdale city administrator.

Awk-ward.

Cody Hansen's candidacy has social media sites abuzz with questions of ethics and the specter of possible nepotism.

This week, another Riverdale resident, Stacey Haws, filed a complaint against Larry Hansen with the Utah City Management Association, a professional and educational group for appointed local government administrators.

Haws, a former city council member, sent an email to Scott Darrington of the UCMA, stating that Larry Hansen "may be in violation of the ethical standards" of that association. Larry Hansen is a member of the UCMA.

Haws believes Riverdale's city administrator has violated "Tenet 7" of the UCMA-adopted Code of Ethics. That tenet states that members shall: "Refrain from all political activities which undermine public confidence in professional administrators. Refrain from participation in the election of the members of the employing legislative body."

Larry Hansen made a $500 donation to his son's campaign, and wore a "Cody Hansen for City Council" T-shirt at the city's Old Glory Days celebration this year. Haws contends that by doing this, the city administrator violated the UCMA code.

Haws admits no laws have been broken, but he believes it gives the appearance of impropriety.

"It's not illegal, but just on the face of it, it looks bad," Haws said. "It just doesn't look proper. I wouldn't want to be on a city council where my father was the city administrator."

Indeed, Jennifer Morrell, Weber County elections director, said the Hansen situation in Riverdale isn't a violation of any election laws. And just to be certain, she contacted the lieutenant governor's office, which told her the city administrator broke no laws as long as he didn't campaign for his son during hours of employment.

"As long as they're not supporting a candidate on city time, or with city property -- like city letterhead, or stamps paid for by the city -- it isn't illegal," Morrell said. "They can exercise their First Amendment right, they just have to do it on their own time."

Cody Hansen said that even if he were elected, he'd have little to do with his father's position. The city administrator is already under a contract that ends in December 2014.

"There's little I could do to that," Cody Hansen said. "My father's going to retire. He hasn't made it official, but at the end of his contract, I'd bet anything he won't be renewing it."

Larry Hansen seemed to confirm that.

"I have a contract through the end of calendar year '14," he said. "I'm 66 years old next year. I have no intention to renew my contract."

But what if the father didn't retire and opted to extend his contract?

"It's something I'd have to abstain from," his son said.

Riverdale Mayor Bruce Burrows isn't buying the claims of potential nepotism should Cody Hansen be elected.

"Frankly, this is a non-story," he said.

Burrows believes the accusation has nothing to do with government and everything to do with politics.

"What I'm saying is that Mr. Haws is a primary supporter of a different candidate than Mr. Hansen," Burrows said. "Take it for what it's worth. But the people of Riverdale will decide if it is nepotism."

Burrows said he has worked with Larry Hansen for a number of years, and that he is "one of the best city administrators in the state."

"He told me he was going to retire, and that was one of the reasons I decided not to run again," Burrows said.

Haws worries a successful Cody Hansen candidacy has the potential to place too much power in one family's hands.

"There are those who think it's a little untoward to have members of a family try to control this city," Haws said.

Haws said if Cody Hansen pulled out of the race -- "And I'm obviously not supporting him" -- that wouldn't be "improper."

"The biggest thing I want out of this, is to let people know that sometimes people who have an impeccable character don't always do the right thing," Haws said. "And in our city, we vote by mail. A lot of people already voted. For those folks, it's too late for this information to have any effect on their vote."

The specter of nepotism has never been far from Riverdale politics. When then-mayor Ben Jones recommended Larry Hansen for a position with Riverdale city, the two were brothers-in-law. The current mayor's wife works for the city. City councilman and mayoral candidate Norm Searle has a sister-in-law who works for the city.

And get this: "Larry Hansen is my second cousin -- he might be once removed," Haws laughed. "Apparently, blood is not thicker than water."

Cody Hansen confirms that relationship.

"I invited (Haws) to a family reunion once," he said. "It was more just kidding around, really."

However, Cody Hansen thinks this illustrates a challenge in small-town politics.

"In a small city, people are going to be related," he said. "It's a small town, honestly. I don't know what else to say."

Cody Hansen said he declared his candidacy almost on a whim, as he just dropped by the city offices one day and decided to run.

"It was pretty spontaneous," he said. "My dad was there. He was pretty shocked; I'm not sure how happy he was about it. ... But I also know he wouldn't come at me over this. If he were upset, I wouldn't know."

Larry Hansen understands the timing of this whole thing is clearly odd, and that his son "surprised" him when he filed for office.

"He is my son, but he has every right to do what he wants," Larry Hansen said.

The elder Hansen also thinks politics are behind the ethics charge.

"It's a witch hunt, is what it is," he said. "But I'm OK. I'm at the end of my career. I told Cody, 'You've got to be prepared, you've got to have a thick skin. People may be critical, it may get personal. ... But I've weathered tough stuff. This is a ripple."

Larry Hansen insists he's not involved in his son's campaign, other than superficially.

"Yeah, I have a sign in my yard, and I wore a T-shirt at Old Glory Days," he said. And he did contribute $500 to the cause.

"And I think he took a sign to one guy's yard, somebody I didn't really know," Cody Hansen adds. "But he's not actively campaigning for me."

If Cody Hansen loses the election, he's not about to blame it on "Family-gate."

"I'm a bit of an underdog; I wouldn't say if I'm not elected it's because of that," he said. "There are four excellent candidates, and the others are well-liked people. These guys are serious candidates. Their victory would have nothing to do with me."

As for any perceived problems with nepotism in Riverdale, Mayor Burrows dismisses the question.

"No," Burrows said. "And I'll tell you why: This stuff surfaces at campaign time only. In my 12 years as mayor, I've never had one person approach me about nepotism in the city. Never. The group that's bringing this up are supporters of the likely underdogs.

"I don't see this as a conflict of interest or nepotism," he added. "It's just politics."

Scott Darrington, city manager of Pleasant Grove and past president of the UCMA, confirmed he received Haws' complaint. He has never seen an ethics complaint in his seven years on the UCMA board, but he says the association will be thorough in its investigation. He expects the UCMA board to meet on the matter sometime next week.

"We'll follow through, but we've got no timeline," he said. "We want to make sure we do this right."

Darrington said action taken could involve private censure, public censure or revocation of UCMA membership.

"Or, nothing," he added. "We'll look at all of that and then make a decision."

Haws said he respects the Hansens, and doesn't want to cause problems or embarrass anyone. But he maintains his belief that a city administrator father and city councilman son is a bad idea.

"Last night I told my wife I'd done this (sent the ethics charge to UCMA) and was waiting for things to hit the fan," Haws said. "She said, 'Does this mean we're going to have to move?' "

Contact reporter Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/mark.saal.

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