The war between key Woodland Park downtown development leaders and city hall has escalated to a new level, with the head WP government manager receiving the boot as the DDA interim director, and a formal investigation of expenses now underway.
In addition, concerns still continue over the future fate of the Downtown Development Authority’s prized holding, Woodland Station, with reports of illegal trespassing at this site by contractors and calls to the police department.
At issue is a renewed fight between the majority members of the DDA and the city over how money is being allocated for improving the downtown, and how it is handling the Woodland Station area. Meanwhile, some officials are questioning the agenda of certain DDA members and whether they are behaving in a rogue fashion and operating with clear political motives. In addition, some say the DDA, under its new reign, is trying to pursue an unrealistic divorce from the city.
Last week, sparks ignited during a debut DDA meeting for several new members, with tensions persisting between DDA board member Tanner Coy and City Manager David Buttery. Oddly enough, the forum began on a positive note with awards given to outgoing board members Vera Egbert and Dale Schnitker
Chairperson Merry Jo Larsen then gave a slight pep and requested a board retreat. “I would like to see us be a more active board,” said Larsen. “We are protecting ourselves.”
Later in the session, she lauded the board’s effort to turn Woodland Station into a hub for events, citing this plan as a way to make Woodland Park into more of a destination area. Larsen said she has received much encouragement from merchants in the area.
A financial report made by Buttery was well-received. “It looks better that what we thought it was going to be,” said the city manager, in describing the DDA’s current finances.
“The story will only get better,” said Buttery, who outlined a way the DDA could repay the city for its previous $1 million loan and still have plenty of money to operate and to generate much revenue in future years through its tax increment financing setup. “The story only gets better, said Buttery.
But the civil atmosphere at the DDA meeting clearly deteriorated after this point.
A presentation of a new attorney to assist the DDA took Buttery by complete surprise. The board introduced David Neville of the Colorado Springs-based Kraemer Kendall Rupp Deen and Neville firm, who will be assisting the DDA on a needed basis. Neville outlined his background in the region with both DDA and urban renewal authority organizations, mostly in Colorado Springs.
Buttery questioned his role, noting that the DDA already has a designated attorney. But Larsen defended the action, citing Neville’s knowledge and availability. The board agreed to accept an engagement letter with Neville’s firm.
The atmosphere also got a little testy when Coy, the president of Tweeds Fine Furnishings, grilled Buttery on a slew of financial issues and then demanded to review all DDA finances, including invoices and payments made by the city. Buttery agreed to comply with this request and urged Coy to talk with the city’s financial director, Wallie Dingwell.
Buttery given walking papers
But tensions clearly exploded when the board discussed its executive director situation. This slot has been filled by Buttery, since the departure of former director Brian Fleer. Buttery contended that he has performed this role as interim executive director in the past.
He received support for this temporary position by veteran DDA members Jon DeVaux and Al Born. “The city has worked with us since 2001,” said DeVaux. “We don’t want to micro-manage the people who are helping us,” added Born.
However, Coy and several DDA members questioned this arrangement. The Tweeds president questioned the circumstances behind Buttery’s appointment as the interim director, suggesting that proper protocol and rues weren’t followed. “We do not have an interim executive director,” claimed Coy. New board member Elijah Murphy, meanwhile, questioned the exact role of the director position. He believes this issue needs more discussion, prior to the naming of a director.
Larsen, though, wanted Buttery to work with the board as a city representative on a number of issues, at least until it held its retreat and could better determine the direction it wants to pursue. The chairperson, though, objected to his continued role as their head director.
But Buttery contended that he serve as interim director or have no involvement with the group. “I am either on (as interim director) or I am off,” blasted Buttery. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
If they wanted to get rid of him as a DDA interim director, then that’s fine, announced Buttery. “I will still serve as the city manager,” he said.
In an effort to formalize his role with the group, a motion was made to have Buttery serve as the board’s interim director until later this month.
But this proposal got rejected by a 5-3 verdict, with only DeVaux, Born and new member Ellen Carrick endorsing Buttery’s role as the group’s interim director.
Following this vote, Buttery immediately stood up and hastily left the board table and council chambers and appeared visibly upset.
Several people in the audience were stunned. With this verdict, the board has taken a “do it on our own” path and must handle nearly all payroll and invoice action itself, along with requests from potential developers or people wanting to do business inside the district. It no longer will have a city staff member as a liaison. It’s still unclear if the board will pursue the hiring of an executive director.
A definite uneasiness prevailed between city hall representatives and board members for the remainder of last week’s meeting.
The board’s anti-city sentiments continued, as the group debated the future of Lot#2 in Woodland Station and whether to have an open meeting regarding this area that has been the subject of continuous discussions.
One issue deals with the board’s previous arrangement with BierWerks owner Arden Weatherford. and if the board may face legal repercussions. In a previous meeting, Woodland Park Mayor Neil Levy argued that the board owed Weatherford a moral obligation to give him a chance with his previous development bid for this property. According to reports, Weatherford has plans for turning a key part of Woodland Station into a multi-use housing and retail development. However, the majority board members now want to use the property as an events hub for various groups and outside organizations.
Several board members demanded an open meeting for the purpose of more transparency. “A lot of that should be exposed,” said board member Jerry Good, in questioning certain activities done reportedly behind closed doors that have occurred regarding this site. “We need to be more responsible,” admitted Coy.
But because a number of legal issues need to be discussed regarding this site, the board agreed to handle this subject during an executive session, not open to the public. However, this issue is far from resolved with allegations surfacing last week of some work illegally occurring there, with calls made to the police department.
In other DDA updates, the board may have lost a key ally in its bid to turn Woodland Station into an events hub. The Woodland Park Farmers Market, through a letter read by Lois Sill, thanked the group for its support]] but announced it was backing out of a previous plan to relocate its summer and fall market activities to the Woodland Station area. No reasons were given.
The Farmers Market and the DDA have experienced a rough ride. Late last spring, Market officials wanted to use Woodland Station as its 2016 site for the popular Friday events. But the board’s inaction forced the group to pursue its previous temporary site near Vectra Bank.