The first volley of legal gunfire has ignited in the war between the majority members of the Woodland Park Downtown Development Authority and city officials.
Still, representatives of both sides are hopeful of the prospects of striking a truce within the next few weeks, and avoiding a lengthy court duel.
Last week, the Colorado Springs-based firm of Kraemer Kendall Rupp Deen and Neville filed an extensive legal complaint against the city regarding a slew of recent issues pertaining to the DDA. The complaint was briefly discussed during a formal presentation last week by DDA Chairperson Merry Jo Larsen. This marked the fourth consecutive council meeting that DDA concerns commanded center stage.
Based on the eight-page complaint, the main concerns deal with how contracts and excavation work was handled by city officials regarding the development of a prime area of Woodland Station. In addition, the complaint suggests major conflict of interest allegations and seeks a resolution to the current situation surrounding Lot#2, an area that the majority DDA members want to use as an events hub. In fact, the majority DDA members, through this complaint, have given the city and developer Arden Weatherford, the owner of BierWerks, 30 days to complete excavation work and grading on part of Lot#2, in cooperation with the DDA.
However, despite the detailed list of potential problems, with a laundry list of reported facts and transactions, the complaint ended on a positive note.
“The DDA board looks forward to resolving these issues and being able to refocus the DDA on its role in supporting the city, the city council and city staff in the efforts to redevelop downtown for the benefit of the citizens of Woodland Park,” said attorney David Neville, in the final paragraph of the complaint.
This is one theme that Woodland Park Mayor Neil Levy emphasized in addressing Neville at last week’s council meeting. The mayor conceded that the council members didn’t have time to review the complaint in detail. But he praised Neville for the tone taken in the document. “I appreciate the approach,” said the mayor.
Instead, Levy took a few shots at the local media for escalating the feud with “inflammatory headlines” and a continual emphasis on the clash between the DDA and the city. “They are trying to sell newspapers. I am trying to sell the city of Woodland Park,” said the mayor. “This is not the spirit (in which) I would like to see things done. We need to work together.”
Neville agreed that both sides would benefit if more cooperation could occur. He stated that he had positive communications with the head attorney for the city of Woodland Park, Erin Smith.
In a previous special meeting, the board leaders of the DDA echoed similar sentiments, and citied the importance of team work. “We all have to work as team,” said DDA board member Elijah Murphy, the co-owner of the Historic Ute Inn, in a recent special meeting, “Hopefully, we will all benefit and this ‘who is mad at whom will go away.’”
Details of the Legal Complaint
But the recent complaint raises major issues pertaining to the city’s lack of enforcement in addressing potential trespassing allegations at Woodland Station and how the city handled contract and permit work, and whether these actions violated the city’s own rules. The complaint also hinted that special favors were provided to certain former leaders and developers and contractors.
As for resolving the main concerns of the majority DDA members, the complaint asks for the following: a strict enforcement of the city’s zoning and development permits; better communication with the DDA board before any further actions occur at Lot#2; compliance with the recommended design guidelines for Woodland Station; and the ability to work together with the DDA to protect the public interest.
In addition, the complaint addresses extensively the concerns dealing with thousands of DDA e-mail records that disappeared and were later retained. The legal complaint questions whether records were intentionally deleted by a city employee or city e-mail user, or a third-party individual. ”The DDA hereby requests a more thorough investigation into precisely what happened with Mr. (Brian) Fleer’s (Brian Fleer was the former DDA director until last June) missing e-mails. Many additional questions come to mind.”
Plus, through its complaint, the DDA wants to review the current intergovernmental agreement it has with the city.
In the interim, the complaint mainly seeks an immediate resolution over the fate of Lot#2. The DDA board wants to use this area as events hub, but they are worried that this property could get tangled up in a legal quagmire if the situation isn’t resolved.
The complaint, however, is not supported by all DDA board members. Veteran board members Jon DeVaux and Al Born and new member Ellen Carrick haven’t supported the actions taken by the majority DDA leaders.
These three DDA members actually sought to retain City Manager David Buttery in July as an interim director of the DDA, a post he had retained in the past. But this plan was sternly rejected by the majority members, a situation that prompted a severing of ties between the DDA board and city staff. This has escalated tensions between both sides. However, representatives of the city and DDA have taken a more conciliatory tone in recent public sessions.
Since mid-July the DDA board has been doing the brunt of the work itself. In fact, Treasurer Tanner Coy, the president of Tweeds Fine Furnishings, has invested many a week in handling DDA matters. “It has almost been like another full-time job,” said Coy, in a recent interview.
Despite the recent political and legal clashes, both the DDA board and city representatives appear on the same page regarding the DDA’s intention to repay the city for a previous $1 million loan it incurred from Woodland Park for a previous project in 2007 that went bust.