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A disturbing pattern

Dear Editors,

It has come to my attention that a number of city contracts are being approved without a public hearing or Council approval. In recent e-mails, the city manager states that he believes he has authority to approve contracts unilaterally. However, a review of Article 3, Section 5 and Article 5, Section 15 of the City Charter does not appear to confirm that opinion.  

The following list reveals a disturbing pattern of an inconsistent and arbitrary process regarding how the city awards contracts. While some contracts are awarded to recurring consultants, it also appears that significant expenditures of taxpayer funds are being spent prior to and exclusive of a public process or Council approval or competitive bids.  

1. City’s Comprehensive Plan Update

In August 2005, a $380,000 contract was awarded to Michael Lauer, of Planning Works, to conduct the update on the City’s Comprehensive Plan. This contract was “approved” at a study session, and there are no minutes of that study session as required by Article II, Section 8 of the City Charter and Section II of the Colorado Open Meetings Act, CRS 24-6-402  That contract was approved without a Request for Proposal, and there was no public notice, public hearing or formal Council approval.  

2. Phil Weathers Assessment of Planning Process

It appears that this contract was also approved by the city manager without a Request for Proposal, public notice or public hearing and was not subject to a study session or approved by the City Council. As a member of the Council, I only became aware of Mr. Weathers’ study “accidentally” at City Hall. I have no idea the cost of this contract.

3. Library Architect

My understanding is that the city manager appointed a “selection” committee to consider the 11 applicants without public notice or Council approval. There was no architect on the selection committee. As Council liaison to the Library Board, I was not informed of this committee’s formation or its schedule of meetings. The committee met on indeterminate occasions without public notice to make its final selection. That selection will not come before the Council for public hearing or final approval. While the entire project is estimated at $15 million, I have no idea the cost of this contract.  

Also, what are the implications of hiring an architect prior to bond approval by the voters?

4. New Community Park

While the community park at Grandview was discussed during Council consideration of the Grandview annexation in 2004, there has been no public hearing or Council approval of this project.  

If earlier Council approval of the Grandview annexation was sufficient to initiate any project, the Three Springs project would not currently be going through the City’s planning process.

If prior budgets alone were sufficient to initiate any project, how would the public be informed?  A budget item does not constitute project “approval” and cannot be viewed as a substitute for an appropriation process, a public hearing or formal Council action.  

Most importantly, every project initiated by the City must receive public scrutiny and Council approval prior to appropriation of taxpayer funds. In addition, annual piecemeal funding for an estimated $16 million project is to evade a bond vote to finance this project.  

5. Community Survey

At a March 1 meeting, an evaluation committee met without public notice and awarded an $18,000 contract to Howell Research Group to conduct a citizen opinion survey.  

At a Council study session on March 14, the Council voted 4-1 to grant the contract to Howell. There are no minutes of that study session per City Charter and Colorado Open Meetings Act references cited above. No public hearing was held, and there was no formal Council approval.  

If any of the following information is inaccurate, I would request that the city manager provide the appropriate dates and/or documentation at his earliest convenience. I would also request that the City Attorney provide a legal opinion whether this process is in conformance with the City Charter, the Colorado Open Records and Open Meetings Acts and constitutes a “substantial injury to the public interest.”

– Renee Parsons, Durango City Council, via e-mail

Help design Durango’s library

To The Editors:

Help us design the new Durango Public Library! The next meeting for the general public to provide input into the design of the new library will be held Wed., May 24, 5:30 to 8 p.m., at the Durango Recreation Center. Another public input meeting will be held Thurs., June 8, 5:30 to 8 p.m., also at the Recreation Center. Everyone is welcome to attend. Also, there will be a special session for senior citizens at the 55 Plus Center beginning at noon on May 24. Senior citizens especially are encouraged to attend this session with the building planner and architect.

If you can’t attend a meeting, there are forms on which you can submit suggestions available in the main library as well as the two branches at Fort Lewis Mesa and Sunnyside Elementary Schools. And there is a link on the library’s homepage: www.durangopubliclibrary.org. Look for the running banner.

We welcome any and all suggestions to help us design a stellar new public library.

– Ed Angus, chairman, Durango Public Library Advisory Board


The price of paving Hidden Valley

Dear Editors,

Isn’t it always the way? Those with the most want even more and use their political connections to try to get those with the least to buy it for them. If it’s not billionaire Red McCombs and his Village at Wolf Creek, it was that developer who wanted Durango to annex his Animas Valley property so taxpayers could buy his road access, water and sewer services, and fire and police protection for him. Then he could reap the increased profits from his now, more-valuable lots.

Remember a couple of years ago the handful of well-off hotel and restaurant owners who wanted us to buy them a downtown convention center just so they could keep their rooms and tables full? Well now we have another attempt by an affluent (median home value of over $600,000 is affluent despite their protests) subdivision to make their lives even nicer and have us pay for it. The Falls Creek Subdivision (with around 75 year round residences) has worked out a sweet deal (for them) with the Forest Service to turn over to the county the 2.1-mile gravel, dead-end road that goes just to their entrance, and have the taxpayers pay to help pave it and then maintain it – forever!

What do they get? The Falls Creekers get immediate increased home values. They save the $23,000 a year they now pay to plow and maintain their road. They get to drive even faster to town (now those ruts in the gravel make it hard to get much over 50 mph!). They dodge about $50,000 in the next couple of years for needed regraveling that the Forest Service won’t do for them. And they won’t have to wash their cars so often! What do we get? The bill for at least $85,000 this year and maybe $10,000 a year, forever, until it’s time to repave, and then we’ll pay the whole repaving cost. We’ll be paying for the snow removal and the costs of running the school buses an extra 12.6 miles per day up to their entrance. We’ll get more noise, more speeders and more roadkill through Hidden Valley.

But hey! Don’t blame the nice folks up at Falls Creek just for trying. Blame our county commissioners for even considering that this boondoggle is the best way to spend our limited tax dollars. The county jail needs work, and the sheriff’s and fire departments are always under-funded. How about a county health district? Can the commissioners look the taxpayers in the eye and honestly say this is the best use of our money?

If the Falls Creekers want their road paved, they should pay for it themselves. Despite what Commissioner Sheryl Ayers has told the residents of Falls Creek, this is not a done deal yet! Please let all the commissioners know what you think about this pork barrel project!

– Will Harjes, Durango