Longmont and Thistle see “the light”

The Times-Call ran a story on April 22 by Tony Kindelspire with the following headline: “Thistle corrects $38 million error, Blog post brought nonprofit’s mistake to light of city”. It’s worth reading, including the comments and further questions in the comment section.

I’m glad Thistle and the City of Longmont were more responsive after my initial questions and subsequent story, but they really should’ve been right off the bat. Why does it take public pressure and an outside, non-Longmont staffer to get the story straight from them? I’ve heard second hand how Thistle reacted to these questions, and know first hand how the city reacted, and I was not impressed. What it takes to get the truth of the matter from these entities should bother citizens.

Turn of events
First, an Open Records request was made, which was denied, followed by questions of why. Then Thistles records were requested directly from them, they said they were going to use the full 30 days allowed for them to respond. When requested in person (which means they must provide them immediately or within the same day) they said they were filing an extension with the IRS, and now have until May 15th. Meanwhile, at the City level, the dodging at two different offices did not instill confidence. I asked the question if City Council could “declassify” this document (the audit) or make it non-confidential so the public could see it. The response I got was “As City Attorney, I cannot give legal advice to third parties.” City Council is a third party? I wasn’t requesting or in need of legal advice myself.

Fishy financials
But now, the negative $23 million has morphed in to a positive $15 million, that’s quite a swing, and quite a mistake. As of this writing the original document showing the negative number remains on the Secretary of State’s website, and now there is an amended one. This was filed back in September 2008 which was when their fiscal year ended. The annual financial statement is what needs to be looked in to, and with Thistle saying they filed an extension with the IRS effective April 15th makes one wonder if they’re confusing their year end report with their tax documents. Unless of course they secured $38 million in the last 6 months, which seems impossible to believe with the economy the way it is. Also, consider the information at this link from the year before when they showed a net loss of $33,514 and a fund balance of negative $31,910.

City and Thistle stumble
The Times-Call story said “The city hired its own outside accountant to review Thistle’s financial statements, according to city finance director Jim Golden.” So this was not a salaried city staff employee, which should have made this document even more open to the public.

Also in the story: “The information posted was inaccurate, and I didn’t oversee it as well as I should have,” (Thistle CEO Mary) Roosevelt said Tuesday. “And when I became aware of it, we corrected it immediately.” This “inaccurate” report was filed over 6 months ago. This is not a recent development, although Ms. Roosevelt’s knowledge of it is. That in itself should pose some questions about this organization: If you’re involved in a project that will get public scrutiny, especially the kinds of questions like “can you deliver on a project”, when you’re asking for the City of Longmont to fork over money and land exceeding $9 million – would you be totally unaware of a $38 million dollar error with the Secretary of State?

And city staff should question why when asked for information like this that they initially resorted to dodging and finding reasons not to answer the question. They knew they hired an outside source to look in to Thistle, that should have ended the Open Records debate right there. They should have known Thistle filed the same report with the city’s housing authority, also making it open to the public.

All that ends well(?)
If Thistle’s financials are sound and they can be counted on to complete the proposed project, great. I hope the situation is not as fishy as it still appears and we’re not left holding the bag if things go bad. This is not about Downtown, work-force housing, or mixed used development – although I’m sure some readers incorrectly came to that conclusion with this story. It’s about fairness (think Panattoni), transparency (Thistle and the City’s failure at it), learning from past mistakes (previous discontinued project and FasTracks situation) – and not having to have to say in a few years “how did we miss the warning signs?”

No excuses.

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About Chris Rodriguez

Chris is the editor/publisher of LightningRod Blog - as well as founder/editor of Wrongmont, Longmont Advocate, Vote!Longmont, Longmont Politics, the LightningRod Radio Network, as well as being the original Longmont Examiner. Chris is a writer and talker - whether it be blogs, podcasts, music, or public speaking. When he's not heard on Air Traffic radio, he can be heard on his podcasts or seen in the local paper causing trouble.

2 Responses to Longmont and Thistle see “the light”

  1. Paul Tiger says:

    There were a good number of citizens who were aware of Thistle’s insolvency, perhaps even the DTC, however one citizen made it public. He did so at quite a risk to himself and his family. The information about misfiled taxes is not difficult to find, but the city refused to acknowledge the issue and would not compare their notes with what was found by outsiders. Outsiders, meaning those outside of the secrecy of city staffers; Outsiders, meaning citizen taxpayers; Outsiders, meaning nosiness trying to pierce the vale of opacity.
    Once it became clear that Outsiders had pierced the vale, the city attorney and city finance director decided to come clean. Outsiders, which have been termed as bloggers here, pulled open the curtain behind the machine. As in the Wizard of Oz. Welcome to Oz.
    As Councilman Santos pointed out, there was no Request for Proposal. Without an RFP developers could dream up anything and expect that the citizens of Oz would just love it. Councilwoman Blue was quite critical of the dreamy Thistle proposal down to some of the specific details, to which Thistle planners had little to no believable responses. Santos and Blue showed leadership qualities, while others were herded into the slaughter pen. The members of the LDDA remained stone faced and said nothing at that council session. Later on they were swayed by public opinion, if not by the discovery that their partner (Thistle) had neither the maturity nor financial management to proceed without millions in tax funding.
    In the past, Thistle has done well in purchasing and refurbishing apartment buildings for low income housing. For whatever reason, Thistle has departed from the direction of its original mission and portends to be a developer of commercial properties. This has been less successful for them, and for the past few years they’ve been propped up by the Boulder County Commissioners. In 08 Thistle received $50K of Worthy Cause Tax help from the BoCC, and in the county WCT report Thistle is shown to have been effective in housing in Boulder and Adams counties. The BoCC either didn’t look into the fiscal issues that have been plaguing them for several years, running back to 2006. It appears that Thistle wanted Longmont to march in locked step with Boulder and give their bad planning a $9M boost.
    Given the varnishing that the DTC received from the CC and city staff, it is a shame that it only reported the outcome and didn’t investigate and inform its readership (which includes council) of the shape of things to come. But by this time next month the DTC will be based in Berthoud and may no longer care what our council does with our tax donations.

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