Woodland Park Council Snubs DDA Appointees; Faces Growing Dilemma Over Split Verdict

~ by Bob Volpe ~

The Woodland Park City Council has failed to appoint any of the applicants for three open seats on the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Board of Directors, a further indication of a huge division among the elected leaders on certain key issues.

This unusual inaction occurred during last week’s regular meeting.

As with any appointment by the council, the vote of the council must be at least four yes votes for applicants to be approved. Council members Kellie Case, Rusty Neal and Mayor Pro Tem  Hilary LaBarre, refused to cast a vote for any of the Proposed applicants.

However, council members Jim Pfaff and Robert Zuluaga, and Mayor Val Carr voted for all three of the applicants.

Some believe this tie vote is a perfect example of why it is so important to have Noel

Noel Sawyer

Sawyer’s seat on the council filled as soon as possible. Sawyer retired from the council after the last election, which left the council with only six members.

LaBarre explained why she would not cast a vote for any of the applicants. She said, “Nothing personal, I am against the DDA as an organization. I have always talked about winding it down. I will not be voting for anyone so that the board can be held at a minimum until it can be wound down.”

Case chimed in on her reason for not voting for any of the applicants, Case said, “It is my intent to see that the DDA winds down. I think that a minimum number of board members is a good place for that to reside, and work toward debt reduction and more toward cession of the DDA.”

Case has had her differences with the DDA, and campaigned as a mayoral candidate on dissolving the group. In addition, she was ousted as council liaison to the DDA last year.

The three applicants for the open seats were Elijah Murphy, Jerry Good, and Marty McKenna. Current DDA Board of Directors Member Ellen Carrick is not seeking another term on the board. Both Murphy and Good have served on the DDA board of directors for several years.

This was the first time McKenna applied for a seat on the DDA board. Her mother, Merry Jo Larsen, is the owner of the Cowhand Western Store downtown and is the DDA’s chairperson.

Council began their questioning of each of the applicants, during a half-hour blackout of the Zoom app, which allows citizens to view council meetings remotely. As a result, much of the questioning could not be heard.

When the app blackout was finally resolved, the council was already well into the questioning of Murphy. Some of the questions hurled at the applicants centered around the status of Woodland Station, local dissatisfaction of the DDA as a body and the debt the DDA owes the city. Some on council also questioned McKenna’s relationship with Larsen as a possible conflict of interest.

After the tie vote, council became confused as to what would happen next. According to the DDA’s charter, the board of directors must consist of at least five members, but no more than 11 members. The board has been operating with nine members to date.

The charter also states that a majority of board members must also be residents of, or business owners in the DDA district. As the board stands now, as a result of the failure to appoint the applicants, the DDA board now consists of three members who meet the charter criteria, Merry Jo Larsen, Jan Wilson, and Tanner Coy. Ellen Carrick, Nick Pinell, and Al Born do not meet the charter criteria. Therefore, the board does not meet the necessary criteria that a majority of members reside in, or own a business in the DDA district.

Questions on What’s Next

Council then became confused again as to how to proceed. Neal made a motion to table a vote on the appointments to the next meeting and was seconded by Zuluaga. According to the city charter, a tie vote on an appointment would automatically be tabled until the next regular meeting, so the motion to table was a moot point.

City Attorney Jason Meyers clarified the confusion. He said, “It’s an automatic move to the next meeting. You don’t have to vote to table it today.”

Council then discussed whether there could be new applicants or whether the same contenders would be up for a vote at the next meeting. At this point, Neal explained his no vote. He said, “I’m trying to send a message to the citizens of Woodland Park, who continue to voice the same thing. We have the same ‘good ol boys’ running the city.” Neal’s intent is that he is encouraging people to step up and apply for openings in city government. He said, “I’m throwing down the gauntlet on the city of Woodland Park to come in and apply. The good ol boys didn’t automatically get elected. There are people saying we have the same people over and over on the same boards.”

Neal stated he is willing to vote for the same applicants at the next meeting if nobody steps up to apply at the next meeting. Carr then said, “I’m pretty sure it is going to be the same candidates.”

Another big question mark hinges on the process for lowering the number of members on the DDA board. Case and LaBarre’s failure to vote on any of the candidates may be a moot point without an ordinance to lower the number of board members on the DDA Board.