The continual feud between the Woodland Park Downtown Development Authority board and city officials hit center stage again during another lively council meeting last week.
Concerns mounted regarding a spree of contentious issues, including a possible criminal investigation on the destruction of public information; the establishment of an even playing field for local business operators; the need to improve the city’s image; official updates on efforts to pay back a $1 million loan by the DDA, and obtain the assistance of WP officials in replying to a detailed open records’ request.
Following a rather uneventful session for elected leaders, the council was suddenly bombarded by comments by several board members of the DDA, who outlined a variety of issues and indicated that the city needs to clean up its act from an ethical perspective. These statements occurred during the public comment session of the council’s Aug. 18 meeting.
At the same time, city officials and elected leaders tried to put to bed the previous furor regarding allegations of thousands of missing e-mails, saying this mystery was completely resolved with the recouping of 20,000-plus e-mail records from a specific account. Plus, a few council members lauded the commitment of the DDA board, and say they enjoy discussing these issues in an open forum.
Elijah Murphy, the co-owner of the Historic Ute Inn in Woodland Park and a new DDA board member, delivered a short speech and pep talk, which raised questions regarding the business practices of city hall. “The city’s image needs a little polishing,” blasted Murphy. More specifically, he raised questions about having a clear playing field for all local business operators regarding permitting rules and the way the city handles contracts.
In talks with many people in the community, Murphy cited a big perception problem regarding the city’s image. “I think there is an image problem with the way things are done,” said Murphy, who said too often business folks were advised about discussing these issues in public. As a business operator in Woodland Park, he hinted that he would have probably been better off lobbying former elected leaders and city officials in getting things done that benefited the Ute Inn. Several times during his presentation, Murphy cited quotes from President Harry Truman, who reportedly refused to use his influence to make huge money in contracts, following his stint as president.
Although no names were mentioned, Murphy’s criticism was clearly leveled at the situation surrounding plans by Arden Weatherford, the owner of BierWerks, to pursue a project in the Woodland Station area. This plan has clashed with the aspirations of the majority DDA members, who want to turn this area into an events hub. But Weatherford recently filed an extensive open records’ request regarding the history of previous Woodland Station development activity, dating back to more than a decade ago.
Murphy was just one of several DDA board members who approached the council last week. Board member Jerry Good, the co-owner of the Williams Log Cabin Furniture store, pressed the city on a possible criminal complaint pertaining to the disappearance of more than six months of e-mail records that belong to the DDA.
Although this information was recently uncovered and returned to DDA officials, Good indicated that a serious crime may have occurred regarding the intentional destruction of public property.
A Criminal Matter or Witch-Hunt?
However, the council was reluctant to comment on this matter “I don’t know how we would be able to determine that,” said Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey. “I am not sure that a law is violated.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by Councilman Noel Sawyer, a computer expert who helped the city in its efforts to recoup the missing e-mails. “The DDA has all the e-mails,” said Sawyer, in commenting about the recovery of approximately 20,000 e-mail records from Microsoft. He also questioned if Good is pursuing a continual “witch-hunt,” in his obsession with the missing e-mails. “This needs to be dropped, Jerry,” he added.
Good, though, replied that the DDA is under serious attack and needs to get to the bottom of the recent information that he believes intentionally disappeared. “We want all the information. This is not taking place. We are under fire,” said Good.
He was partially referring to the latest open records’ request, pertaining to the detailed development of Lot#1 of Woodland Station (currently occupied by Woodland Hardware). This request was classified by City Manager David Buttery as “monstrous,” and one that would have to involve a third-party to investigate. In fact, DDA officials asked for the city’s assistance in responding to this request.
Weatherford, who has found himself at odds with the majority DDA members in recent months, also addressed the council. He criticized the DDA’s actions in bringing its business before the council on a repeated basis. “The DDA is not the public,” said Weatherford, who questioned the group’s antics in using a public council forum to air its concerns. If these are major issues, then they should be listed on the agenda, argued Weatherford.
Last week’s clash between the DDA and city officials, though, featured a few positive moments, with city leaders and DDA members complimenting each other.
“The DDA needs your help,” said Murphy, when addressing the council. “I want to see the DDA succeed.”
“The DDA has come together,” said Councilman Paul Saunier. “We are making progress. Don’t get frustrated. I see it working,” added the councilman in replying to Murphy.
Even though at times it appears the two sides are clashing, the councilman said he enjoys the open exchange.
In another positive development, DDA Treasurer Tanner Coy, the president of Tweeds Fine Furnishings, stated that the group’s finances are definitely improving with the absence of a paid-executive director and other cost-cutting measures. Moreover, he expressed confidence that the DDA could reach an agreement with the city, pertaining to the repayment of a $1 million loan.
This loan was previously incurred by the development group in 2007 to pay for design and planning costs for a previous proposed project in Woodland Station that never materialized.