Hispanic Cultural Center filed ethics complaint against Lisa Sánchez over painting; matter now ‘resolved’

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City Council Member Lisa Sánchez had a dust-up with the Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho over a portrait of herself earlier this year, but both parties now say the matter is resolved.

On March 7, the Hispanic Cultural Center and longtime Treasure Valley Latina artist Alma Gomez each filed inquiries with the City of Boise’s Ethics Commission alleging Sánchez violated city ethics codes by refusing to return a portrait of herself loaned to her for a campaign event. The two separate inquiry requests argued Sánchez violated city ethics codes by using her official position to gain access to the financial value of the painting. 

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These arguments didn’t hold water with the ethics commission, though. In an opinion posted on the City of Boise’s website, the board dismissed both complaints, writing it’s “not within the commission’s purview to determine the right to possession of non-city property.”

“To the extent it is alleged that Sánchez obtained financial gain by retention of the painting past the original terms of the loan, again, there is no basis to conclude that Sánchez used her official position or office to retain possession of the painting,” the report said. “Instead, both inquiries allege that Sánchez asserted a right to obtain possession independent of her status as a city official.”

Both Sánchez and a receptionist at the Hispanic Cultural Center told BoiseDev the matter is “resolved.” Sanchez told BoiseDev she came to an agreement with the Hispanic Cultural Center and she now owns the painting. Gomez could not be reached for comment. 

“I am grateful for the work of the City of Boise Ethics Commission,” Sánchez wrote in an email. “The parties and I have arrived at an agreement, and I am moving forward now that the matter has been resolved.”

What do the inquiries say?

The paperwork filed with the ethics commission says Gomez donated a portrait she painted of Sánchez to the Hispanic Cultural Center in June 2021. Its estimated value is $2,000. Sanchez allegedly requested to borrow the portrait in August 2021 for a city council campaign fundraiser scheduled for September 16. The Hispanic Cultural Center says she was approved to borrow the painting, but only on the condition it is returned on September 17. 

As of March 2022, the Hispanic Cultural Center said Sanchez had declined to return it “because she has implied that since it is her image, she has a right to own it and felt HCCI does not deserve to have it in their possession.” 

In Gomez’s filing with the city, she recalled reminding Sánchez the painting belonged to the Hispanic Cultural Center, and the organization’s permission was required to keep the painting. Gomez says she told Sánchez to write a letter to the Hispanic Cultural Center explaining why she should be able to keep the painting, which Gomez would co-sign with her. But, when Gomez never received a letter to co-sign she told the ethics commission she assumed the painting had been returned. 

“Sometime in January of 2022 I found out that she had still not returned the painting to the Hispanic Cultural Center,” Gomez wrote to the ethics commission. 

Ethics Commission findings

Boise’s ethics code prevents officials from knowingly using his or her official position for financial gain, but both the Hispanic Cultural Center and Gomez said Sánchez was voluntarily loaned the painting.

The city’s ethics rules also prevent officials from accepting any valuable gift from a person or business with an interest in city business. But, there is an exception for officials accepting contributions and services in connection with a campaign. Since the painting was loaned for a campaign event, Sánchez’s activities fall under this exception. 

The ethics commission also found there is “no basis” for the claim the Hispanic Cultural Center is interested in any business dealings with the city, which means even if Sánchez was not campaigning, she could still accept gifts from the organization. The commission also found there is no basis to claim accepting gifts, if the painting could be considered a “valuable gift,” from the Hispanic Cultural Center would impact Sánchez’s impartiality as a politician. 

“Again, the inquiries do not appear to question the original loan of the painting to Sanchez,” the ethics commission wrote in its decision. “However, to the extent the inquiries assert that the loan constituted a valuable gift, the loan comes within the express campaign exception to the prohibition on valuable gifts to city officials.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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