In The Pocket?

Something I’ve put off commenting about is brewing under the surface and hinted at in various places in the Times-Call and the internet. Were four councilmembers (Benker, Hansen, McCoy, and Levison) bought and paid for by special interests?

Much was made of candidate, now councilmember, Gabe Santos receiving a contribution of $5,000 by the Longmont Association of Realtors in January, 2008. As far as I can tell, I haven’t seen any proposed ordinances or resolutions brought forward in the name of this organization, so obviously there’s not been a vote. Nevermind, it takes more than a lone vote on council to pass such a thing.

On the other hand, there has been a major issue brought forward that could change our city charter and at the very least will cost the city thousands of dollars in a special election: collective bargaining for certain police and fire employees. I advocated for this group in 2004, and am leaning towards voting their way once again this year, so this has nothing to do with pro or anti-union positions. As hard as it may be, put that aside for the sake of this discussion.

Let’s look at the hard numbers: Karen Benker received a $1,500 cash donation and a $266.75 endorsement advertisement from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Brian Hansen received a $500 cash donation and the same $266.75 ad buy. Sean McCoy received a $1,000 cash donation and the same $266.75 ad buy from the Longmont Police Officers Assocation (LPOA). Sarah Levison received a $1,000 cash donation from the LPOA, but I can’t find an ad buy. No other candidates received these donations, and I’ve been told all were interviewed. This is a grand total of $4,800.25.

Since this is not a partisan group (some would argue that point), like one of the political parties (we’re supposed to have a non-partisan electoral structure in Longmont), I don’t have too many issues with these donations. But when these same four councilmembers went after Gabe Santos for his contribution based on what might occur, perhaps they were thinking of what they might do with such a contribution, and now have done precisely that. They’ve proven their own case that money could corrupt city politics.

When the unionization concept was brought to council on first reading, these four didn’t much question the language, all four voted for it with little hesitation. The other three members of council (Lange, Blue, and Santos) had specific concerns and questions, and the players (FD/FD, city staff, attorneys) had meetings and hammered out something more palatable and something with a higher likelihood of voter approval. But Benker, McCoy, Hansen, and Levison had nothing to do with that, they liked it just the way it was. In a twisted way, the collective bargaining team just upped their odds by working on what the three dissenting votes had to say. Not the four they contributed to.

A big concern that’s been conveyed to me, and I agree, is that this vote may become a referendum on city council, these four members in particular. It’s not fair to our police and fire employees to be saddled with that. If that’s truly a concern amongst voters, especially those in favor of this collective bargaining, how about separating it out and just have a flat out recall of these four members?

Yeah, I know, fat chance and a little extreme. But I do have an easier alternative: each of these four councilmembers make $1,000 a month for the service they provide, and don’t get me wrong, as much as I tear into them (and previous councils as well, for those that have forgotten), they do put in a lot of their own time in their elected positions. I suggest, to avoid any suggestion of impropriety, and to truly help the police and fire employees they claim to support, that these four councilmembers forego enough of their stipend equal to these contributions and put it back into the General Fund.

This isn’t a pledge I expect them to take, but what a message it would send if they did. What political harm could it do? And if they’re adamantly opposed to this idea, you should ask why. It could help our fine police and fire employees, our hurting budget, and send a clear message that council is not for sale.

Mall (Un)Developments


I leave town for a few days and all heck breaks lose. Longtime city employees resign, “porn inspectors” wreak havoc, and council has a private meeting with the city attorney with yelling being heard during the meeting. It’s weird seeing these Longmont headlines coming across the ol’ Blackberry from a few states away.

Such fertile ground to cover, but since I’ve written plenty of times about the Twin Peaks Mall, figured I’d hit that one first. My first sentence shouldn’t surprise most people: Longmont’s blowing it.

The main point Mayor Lange and other councilmembers were making towards Panattoni’s Will Damrath was that without a final plan, a final version of what to expect, they may not want to move forward. Lots of people (I assume lots of different people, but you never know) have commented about this at the Times-Call comment section of this story, but at the top of my list is this question: How can procrastinating on this and basically doing nothing be better than at least approving something, specifically Phase 1 which would bring a new movie theater, a couple of new anchors and improvements to the current infrastructure?

What Mr. Damrath was proposing was the above, and for now leaving the rest of the mall alone, all to be decided at a later date. But council just couldn’t get past the idea of not knowing what the final product would be. It sounded like an ultimatum to me: “tell us how it will end up, or the deal is off“, in so many words. Way too many things can change in the next few years. To make a plan based on lousy financial times right now could limit the possibilities if things turn around in a couple of years. Killing the whole thing will guarantee that mall will be an eyesore for years to come. How is that good?

What decent anchor store will come in to a mall in that scenario? And now it sounds as if Panattoni is doing that very thing: shopping around for a couple of interim anchor stores. Can’t say I blame them with a rudderless council with little forward vision.

When I was traveling around, I drove by a lot of older malls that make ours look like the Taj Mahal. Talk about blighted. But something told me it was just the way it was and the people have expected it as all they were going to get. But these places weren’t Colorado, they were on the slide, not on the way up. When I looked at them I wondered if this was what was in store for Longmont: lower standards that we’ll just have to learn to live with.

I also believe there’s a contingent here in town that would be just fine with that scenario, heck, let’s turn it into Open Space, destroy the tax base, get rid of those evil companies down there employing people – you know the drill. Real regressive nonsense. It’s sad these types hold sway with members of our current council.

I’ve always thought Longmont could be more and better than it is. This mall had the potential to be a big first step towards that. It appears Longmont’s chance is slipping away, and what future developer will take a chance with a wishy-washy, do-nothing-for-the-future pack of talkers, not doers?

Personally, I’d like to see Panatonni scrap this “partnership” idea, take the ideas from the town meetings, and get going on what we, their consultants, and their prospective tenants think will work best – and just do it. I assume they don’t have the financial capability to go alone on this, or they would’ve.

I just don’t want to be the town that they say this about: “We’ve dealt with larger cities, corporations and the like, and frankly Longmont is a joke that doesn’t know its head from a hole in the ground…that hole being just east of Hover and north of Ken Pratt Parkway. Buh-bye and good luck!”

Inappropriate Conduct

At the May 13, 2008 Longmont City Council Meeting, there was a snafu during the Public Invited To Be Heard portion. For some reason, one of the speakers who signed up to speak, Richard Yale, was not called up at the appropriate time. To his credit, Mayor Lange, once made aware of this mistake, stopped the council meeting and re-opened Public Invited to correct this, and Mr. Yale had his turn to speak.

During Public Invited, people can speak to just about anything they wish, including green cheese on the moon if they like. Recent council meetings have been long, and often entire agenda items are postponed. While it is best to speak to a public hearing item during that hearing, given the recent nature of meetings, and the possibility people have lives and can’t stick around all night, there is nothing stopping someone from speaking on an upcoming public hearing item during Public Invited.

In this situation though, one mistake was already made in regards to Mr. Yale’s ability to address City Council. But when he did speak he clearly stated he was in favor of the public hearing items they were to discuss later, and wanted to address a different issue. The parcel of land he spoke to was not the same as the land that was part of the public hearing to be held later. He made it fairly clear he was talking about the land near Weld County Roads 5 and 26, which he read into the record the Weld County Commissioners letter talking specifically about this land and this annexation. There is a point to this, read on.

How often after Public Invited do you hear a councilmember reference the speaker? Not very often. It’s rarer still to hear City Attorney Clay Douglas do it. But immediately after Mr. Yale spoke, Mr. Douglas laughed a little and said: ” Your rules and procedures say that you talk at public invited to be heard on any item that’s not scheduled for a public hearing. And the last speaker basically just talked about something scheduled for a public hearing. A better time to do that would be when the public hearing begins.” Mayor Lange responded with “you’re right” or “you’re correct”. Well, no, he isn’t.

If Mr. Douglas can’t tell the difference between the land that was part of the public hearing (that’s south of Hwy 119), and the land Mr. Yale spoke of and the Weld County Commissioners wrote the city about (that’s north of Hwy 119), well, that would explain the needless stalemate the city is in with Firestone, Lifebridge, and Weld County. And like I said, Mr. Yale made the effort to say he was in support of the vote they were about to take, and took. I didn’t hear Mr. Douglas complain about 5 speeches in one night about prairie dogs (by the same person), why would this be any different? Well, there is a reason.

Mr. Yale was one of the ones who pointed out Mr. Douglas’s inappropriate behavior with the anti-Lifebridge annexation folks at a recent Firestone Board of Trustee‘s meeting, and I’m pretty sure Mr. Douglas is aware of this. But he picked the wrong time and the wrong issue to get some payback. How often do you see someone from City Council or Staff publicly try to humiliate a citizen during a televised council meeting? Don’t just take my word for it, it’s on their website if you want to witness it for yourself at http://209.128.123.166/PPPortal/agenda/webcast.aspx .

I wrote the City Clerk about this and asked that it be forwarded on to Mr. Douglas for a public apology to Mr. Yale. I wasn’t asked to do this; it’s just the right thing to do. And it’s a subtle reminder of who he works for, which isn’t some fringe activist group (who don’t all live in Longmont). He serves at the pleasure of the City Council that Longmont citizens like Mr. Yale elect in or out of office.

Longmont: Take The Deal

OPEN LETTER TO MAYOR LANGE AND LONGMONT CITY COUNCIL

For the record, I have no stake whatsoever in the following. I am not a landowner near this property, I am not a member of Lifebridge, nor do I speak for them or have ever been asked to. The proposal by Firestone’s Mayor Chad Auer in reference to Lifebridge Christian Church’s properties should be seriously considered and accepted without delay.

We’ve all been entertained by the antics for the last few months by some of your ” surrogate agitators and aggressors“, but the time for stalling and playing games is over. You have a decision to make and you can’t procrastinate any longer. This is what you were elected to do; take input and make policy. This deal is probably the absolute best you’re going to get; to pass on it would be foolish.

Six of the current seven councilmembers were involved in the recent elections of November and January. When you consider what “majority” you think you’re representing, keep in mind only three of you actually won with a majority ( Lange, McCoy, and Santos), one of you lost by a majority ( Benker in the mayors race) and the other two got in with less than a majority ( Hansen and Levison). Your decision, one way or the other, will bring out some citizens with pitchforks, figuratively, and you need to figure out which ones you’re willing to anger. Whatever political future you think you might have hangs in the balance, because this decision will affect Longmont for decades.

Personally, I think the landowners are giving away too much in this deal. They’ve been the target of slanderous and libelous attacks by some mouthpieces of certain councilmembers. These councilmembers and their attack dogs should be nervous about the recent Open Records request. There are limits to freedom of speech, and I’m willing to bet there are some shady backroom conversations certain people and councilmembers would rather keep out of the public eye. It’s probably too late for that, and I believe that if Longmont doesn’t take this deal, this so-called ” massive” open records request will be followed by a ” massive” lawsuit that Longmont can not afford, and will ultimately lose. In that scenario, all of us taxpayers are the losers.

The anti-annexation crowd didn’t want Lifebridge annexed into Longmont, this offer addresses that, and this group gets their wish. Longmont officials wanted a buffer; this offer addresses that as well. The only hitch is that Longmont has to come up with the money to buy this land as open space. None of you thought this would come for free, did you? This is prime real estate on Hwy 119, another reason I believe the landowners are giving away too much in this deal.

Longmont isn’t and hasn’t been dealing from a position of strength. It really doesn’t hold any cards and stand to lose much. The cute game of de-annexing and re-annexing, including certain roads with the goal of cutting off access to the landowners’ property, was a dirty trick and will cost the city at the county, state, and court levels if you allow this charade to continue. As strategies go, that was a bad move, and now it’s just about checkmate.

We all know some of you ran on, and had the backing of the anti-annexation movement. It’s become clearly evident that they were never just “anti-annexation” or looking out for what was “in it” for Longmont. They’ve followed and harassed the landowners from one city to another, then on to the county level, and have included in their attacks members of a church that has been part of this community for a century. This group has made it clear this church is no longer welcomed here, and the silence by some on council on this attack is tantamount to approval of this despicable behavior. Behavior, that by and large is by only a handful of people, and a small minority who signed the petition (which less than half voted for the anti-annexation candidate in January), yet council gives them the illusion that they are an actual majority of Longmont citizens, which they don’t come close to actually being.

My guess is that your attorneys and staff will suggest you accept this offer, regardless if you can afford the land in question or not. The impending lawsuit could be much more expensive in the long run, with no open space to show for it in the end, unlike with this offer. Some of you need to publicly divorce and disassociate yourselves with the vocal minority who has brought Longmont to this sad and unfortunate position. And do it quickly, you’ve stalled enough.

Cordially,
Chris Rodriguez

Tragedy and Comedy


The formerly simple task of picking applicants for an advisory group once again descended into anarchy at the Longmont City Council meeting of April 22nd.

The announcement for the Economic Vitality Advisory Group makes it fairly clear: “Applicants must have been registered to vote in Longmont for a period of one year”, and “Application Deadline: Monday, April 14th”. Simple enough, but apparently not for simpletons.

At least two of the applicants picked at this meeting are Boulder residents. No, that was not a typo. That announcement title again was: City of Longmont Economic Vitality Advisory Group Applications Wanted. One of the questions on the application is: “Have you been a registered voter in the City of Longmont for at least one year?”

A couple of weeks ago, some council members added names to the list after the deadline. Once again a councilmember (Karen Benker) asked for consideration of a person (from Boulder) to be added to the list. I can’t call this person an applicant because it wasn’t clear they even filled out an application for the council to mull over! And by the deadline? Of course not, but who needs those anyway?

Like last time, this late addition was allowed and then selected for the group, pushing aside applicants who were Longmont residents and knew how to fill out an application and meet the stated deadline.
Of course there should be no question of pre-coordination with other councilmembers on this late addition (that’s sarcasm). How Karen Benker can bring in this late addition, just a name really since there was no application, yet her “like-minded” councilmembers go right along with her. So they’re either lapdogs or they were told ahead of time AND are lapdogs.

And finally, when Mayor Lange asks for the possibility of basically honoring deadlines, Councilmember Sean McCoy stated he wouldn’t support such a thing. This pathetic behavior explains why most people are apathetic to city issues.