Woodland Park Councilman Ousted as DDA Representative

Panel Majority Continues to Exert Political Muscle

Trevor Phipps

During a special Woodland Park council meeting, sparks ignited when the subject of the city’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) appointee came up.

The subject of changing the city council liaison to the DDA board generated a tense debate that took center stage. It resulted in the ousting of Councilman Robert Zuluaga from the council’s DDA liaison spot. Instead, Councilman Rusty Neal, who sides with the majority members on most key issues, gained the DDA position.

This culminates a series of bold actions taken recently by the majority WP elected panel.

Early last week, the council  held a special meeting.  Many speculated that the focus would deal with the appointment of a new interim police chief. But that wasn’t quite the case.

At the special meeting, the council members reviewed the liaison positions. A big debate ensued when Councilman Rusty Neal said that he had wanted to take over as the DDA’s council liaison, a move that would have given Zuluaga, who disagrees with his colleagues on many issues, the boot from his role with the DDA.

Zuluaga, though, made it clear he would like to stay in his position. He also said that he believed the position shouldn’t change unless there was a cause.

“A comment I would make about that is that we have seen such a shift in the DDA with the new appointments,” Zuluaga said. “I would caution us to just steady on as it is going there. There is quite a bit to understand about it.”

Zuluaga then questioned the council if there was a problem with the reports, he has given council, or a specific reason to remove him as the liaison.

“I’ll be very up front about it,” Neal replied. “I have been uncomfortable with some of the votes you have taken. It appears you are voting how you would like the votes to go versus as a council liaison voting how the council would have wanted the votes to go.”

Nothing but politics

After Neal’s comment, Council Member Stephanie Alfieri quickly struck back on Zuluaga’s side. “The comment about voting as far as how council would want him to vote is a clear indication of not understanding the role in which the DDA liaison plays,” Alfieri said. “He is a voting member of that DDA board and he is responsible to the citizens within the district, not the city council.”

Alfieri then gave a history of the DDA liaison position, and said the last time the DDA and council had a good relationship was when former Councilman Noel Sawyer held this spot.

She cited a previous period when Councilwoman Kellie Case, played this DDA liaison role,  and stated that the relationship was tense between the two groups.

“It has now taken almost a year to mend that relationship which was a very good working relationship that Council Member Zuluaga has formed with the DDA again,” Alfieri continued.

“And now for no reason and without cause, other than what I can see is politics and power, we are trying to upset what has become a very, very good working relationship. It takes a lot to understand DDAs, especially this DDA board. Council Member Zuluaga has spent the time to understand it. I’m going to call this out for what it is. It does not appear to be in the community’s best interest to switch this up. It seems like nothing more than ulterior motives running wild.”

Neal then disagreed and said that he sought legal counsel on this matter. Based on the information he received, Neal stressed that the liaison designee is supposed to vote and represent the council’s majority  position on DDA issues.

Councilwoman Kellie Case echoed similar sentiments. Case said that when she served as the DDA liaison,  she recused herself on several occasions.

Zuluaga said that he was obligated to vote in the best direction to serve the citizens of the DDA, since he was a voting member.

Mayor Pro Tem Hilary Labarre then asked the city attorney if the liaison position was even needed. “I feel like every time we have put a liaison including Noel (Sawyer), the feedback I have always received was that they are frustrated and don’t like being in the position very much,” the mayor pro tem said.

The council then voted on replacing Zuluaga with Neal as DDA liaison.  The vote carried 3-2, with Alfieri and Zuluaga casting the no tallies. Neal did not vote.