Last week, in a frank exchange with leaders of the Downtown Development Authority, the Woodland Park City Council discussed the latest controversy to invade the DDA: the disappearance of more than six months of e-mail records. The discovery occurred, following a recent open records request by leaders of the DDA.
“What has happened is wrong. We need to remedy it,” said Jerry Good, a DDA board member and co-owner of Williams Log Cabin Furniture store.
In a low-key fashion, Good informed the council that DDA e-mails were missing from late Oct. 2015 until June 10, 2016. The details of what may be in this source of public information weren’t revealed. Good, who appeared on behalf of the board, requested the council investigate the missing e-mails mystery.
In fact, several DDA members have indicated that this disappearance may result in a major criminal investigation, especially if a deliberate act was made to destroy public information. They argue that this couldn’t occur from someone just deleting a swath of e-mails and would involve a major technical, inside maneuver. Others, though, say it could just be a technical glitch.
For the last month, the majority DDA board members have raised questions about DDA finances and how the city has allocated these monies, along with possible conflict of interest concerns regarding the handing of the Woodland Station property. Several weeks ago, the DDA, in a rare move, decided to oust City Manager David Buttery as its interim director.
On the other side of the spectrum, certain officials and business representatives have complained about the actions of the majority DDA members, and whether they are behaving in a rogue fashion and exceeding their designated role.
During last week’s council meeting, Buttery attributed part of the problem to a conversion to a different server when the city started using Microsoft Outlook, for its e-mail processing. But he admitted the loss of e-mails represents a concern to the city. “It is embarrassing,” said Buttery. “We could face a lawsuit.”
Several council members expressed bafflement over the situation and wanted to pursue more action to discover the missing information. They also wanted to assure the security of future e-mails and Internet records. “The records are out there,” said Councilman Val Carr.
Councilman Noel Sawyer, who does a lot of computer contracting work, agreed, but hinted that the costs of trying to retrieve the e-mails could be extremely high.
Nevertheless, the council instructed Buttery to take this inquiry to the next level to see how these records could be retained. “We can try to track it down,” said the city manager.
Buttery indicated that the missing e-mails stemmed from one specific account. He made it clear that Peak Internet, which previously hosted the DDA account, bore no responsibility. He said all the records from Peak Internet were retained. Instead, Buttery explained that the city has received little cooperation from Microsoft.
According to Merry Jo Larsen, the chairperson of the DDA, the bulk of the missing records dealt with e-mails belonging to former director Brian Fleer. She said they received all of the documents they sought, except for a certain period. “We just want our records back,” said Larsen. “We want to know what is going on.”
DDA finances posing concerns
DDA records aren’t the only issue of dispute with city officials.
Last week, both DDA treasurer Tanner Coy and Larsen raised red flags about the DDA financial picture. “It’s a lot grimmer than we thought, said Larsen, in an interview last week. “There are too many hands in the cookie jar.”
In essence, she cited the group’s financial plight as one of the reasons it had to part ways with Buttery and administration officials. In a previous presentation, Buttery gave an upbeat analysis. “The story will only get better,” said the city manager during the group’s July monthly meeting. In fact, he was optimistic that the group could make a one-time payment for its $1 million loan to the city in 2017 and still end up in the black.
Several DDA leaders, though, are painting a different picture.
Coy told the council last week that fiscally, times are tough for the DDA with its revenues falling short of earlier projections. He also said efforts are being made to assure that the DDA is getting its proper tax money from the county. This concern was also echoed by Buttery and several council members.
They want to make sure developers aren’t getting the short end of the stick regarding their tax rebate reimbursements from projects that receive a TIF (tax increment financing) designation, often touted as DDA-related incentive deals. “The city doesn’t want to throw the TIF receivers under the bus,” said Buttery.
Meanwhile, Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey asked Coy to develop a plan for paying back its $1 million loan to the city. This issue has been a major source of contention among many people in the community. The loan stems partially from previous design and planning work for a previous proposed development project that never materialized.
Coy said he would definitely present such a plan and provide the council with regular updates. “The DDA finances are your finances,” said Coy.
In other DDA matters, Larsen is quite optimistic about the new goal of turning Woodland Station into a major events hub. “Our events committee is going gangbuster,” said Larsen.
The area hosted the Vino and Notes festival last weekend. Plans are now in the works for doing a major rendezvous festival, with an emphasis on historic settlers and trappers, in early September
The DDA last week also heard possible expansion plans for Country Inn and the addition of another AmericInn property, adjacent to the current Country Inn. These plans, which could result in more than 110 rooms and include a new pool.
But Larsen cautioned that more financial details need to get resolved, before the plans move forward. A formal request hasn’t been made yet for TIF reimbursement.