City Officials, Follow The Rules Please!

 In approving The Grove building project, LIttleton Community Development Manager Jocelyn Mills wrote: “The subdivision exemption map for the subject property is in compliance with the provisions of Title 11.” That statement is absolutely false. Section 11-9-1 of the zoning code allows “the owner or purchaser of land, or agent thereof, to divide such land into not more than two (2) parcels, which meets the requirement of the zoning district classification.” In direct violation of the applicable zoning code, Mills approved the COMBINATION of parcels, not the DIVISION of parcels. That’s just wrong.

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Should Past Councilmen be Allowed on City Boards?

City Council just appointed Bruce Stahlman to the Planning Board. Mr. Stahlman completed his council term this past November.  As a councilman he served as their liaison to the urban renewal authority, approved all four urban renewal plans and contributed to the opposition of the voters right to approve urban renewal plans that used tax dollars for private development. As a Planning Board member he will be determining the approval of any future urban renewal project. We know that he supports urban renewal in Littleton and now we are expected to believe that he will be an impartial board member when his former colleagues bring forward an urban renewal project?

Should former council members be appointed to our boards and commissions immediately after they leave council? Should there be a hiatus of four years before they can be appointed? Or, should they focus their volunteer efforts in other capacities?

Denver Water 2016 Rate Schedule: Winners and Losers

Guest Contributor Carl Paulson

If you live in Littleton, Centennial, Greenwood Village or Cherry Hills and consume less than 125,000 gallons per year get ready for a 10% to 40% increase in your annual water bill.  However, if you are a high rate consumer, you will be the recipient of a 10% to 35% decrease in your bill.  Isn’t redistribution fun?

The 2015 rate schedule was compared to the new 2016 rate schedule for all 32,000 households. The comparison used 2014 consumption volumes from DW.  Some of the results are:

  1. Low volume residents experience a rate increase
  • 28,000 residents are faced with a 10% to 40% increase for an annual increase of $2.85 million
  • Of the above, 20,000 residents are faced with a 20% to 40% increase for an annual increase of $2.15 million
  1. High volume residents experience a decrease
  • 1,200 residents will enjoy a 10% to 35% decrease for an annual decrease of $1.22 million

So, what can be done about this?  Unfortunately, the PUC doesn’t regulate DW. The DW Board is appointed by the Mayor of Denver.  Probably the best hope for change is public outcry. Call DW (303-893-2444) and ask them to calculate your new water bill based on your 2015 and 2014 water rates. Ask them to explain the rate change. Express your opinion of the new rate schedule.

Please feel free to contact me at civanpaulson@gmail.com with any questions about this issue.

No Written Minutes: City of Littleton’s “Video” Minutes

Let’s say you want to know what city council members had to say about your favorite Littleton issue.  It used to be that you could go to the Bemis Library, speed read the City Council minutes, and quickly find out.

But written minutes no longer exist, and that’s a big loss to the public.  Now that same search will take you hours of watching a video of the Council meeting on the internet—once you find the link on the city website.  Sure you could fast-forward, but then you wouldn’t know what they’re saying.  So you’re stuck with hours of watching the whole meeting to find what you’re looking for.  Chances are that you will give up in frustration.  Who does this situation serve?

On March 18, 2014 city council passed an ordinance that added a new definition for the word minutes in our city code.  Minutes no longer refer to a written account of the business transacted by council or other quasi-judicial board in Littleton. “Minutes shall mean the video record of the city council or any of its boards or commissions.  If a video record is not taken of such meeting, due to malfunction or otherwise*, then the term “minutes” shall mean written minutes.”  (Ord. 8, Series 2014)  In other words, there are no written records to research unless you’re looking for a meeting that took place before April of 2014.

Now you have to own a computer, not be hearing impaired and have lots of time to navigate the city’s website looking for a particular meeting and then clicking on the video and enduring the endless task of searching for what you want to witness.  Sometimes the video is bad, sometimes the audio is bad and sometimes both the audio and video are bad!  Now settle in, wine helps, and hope you don’t fall asleep.  What you could have done in five minutes now takes you hours – literally – and that is if you know your way around the city’s website.  Most people don’t have the sort of time it takes – could that be the reason why the convenient and long-lived practice of written minutes was abandoned?

When council voted to change the definition of the word minutes it was done in order to save taxpayers money, which is laudable.  I love saving taxpayer’s money but not when one of the job responsibilities on the city clerk is “taking minutes for city council meetings.”  (from the city’s website) She isn’t fulfilling her responsibilities!  In this instance I would prefer that they not worry about paying for the city clerk to do her job and save the tax payer’s some time; after all time is money!

So instead of council approving written minutes – something they would have to read and verify that was an accurate representation of what happened they are “certifying” the minutes of the meeting – which means they are certifying a video record that they have not watched in its entirety but accepting the clerk’s certification.

What’s a Journal?

The City Charter also requires the city clerk to “keep a journal of council proceedings which shall be open to the public at all times, record all ordinances and resolutions in full authenticated by his signature and the seal of the city” (Sec. 31, City Charter)

On Jan. 5, 2016 Council Member Doug Clark moved to direct the staff to “prepare an ordinance on first reading to remove the definition of minutes in Section 1-3-2 of the City Code and produce written minutes for council meetings.”  He did not get a second.

That small change Clark suggested would mean that Debbie Brinkman and Randy Stein’s votes on the Santa Fe Urban Renewal Plan would show that they actually voted in favor but the Journal shows that they voted no. In fact, the Journal shows only one motion being made when a motion was made and then amended.  The vote on the main motion is missing!

This same Journal shows that Jerry Valdes and Peggy Cole voted in favor of the Santa Fe Urban Renewal modification when they have never voted yes on a single urban renewal plan.  Of course all of this would have been caught if the journals were subject to approval.

What Does the Municipal Records Retention Schedule Suggest?

A document called Municipal Records Retention Schedule by the Colorado State Archives Division provides direction in countless areas to municipalities on how to archive records.  Littleton adopted the Municipal Records Retention Schedule in 2008.  The document addresses council meeting minutes and video recordings as such:

Records Management Manual for Municipalities

45.090 MINUTES AND SUPPORTING DOCUMENTATION

Official record of the proceedings of the governing body and supporting documentation of a substantive nature such as exhibits referenced in the minutes.

Retention: Permanent, provided that routine material submitted at meetings may be destroyed after 2 years as long as summary description is included in the minutes [Important Note: Minutes of the governing body are considered to be essential municipal records, and the State Archives therefore recommends that the “record” copy be retained in paper format.]

And so we wonder, exactly what is gained by moving away from easily-accessible written minutes?  City Council said it was cost-savings.  But the city clerk is paid a salary, and taking away the responsibility of written minutes did not reduce the salary.  So no money actually was saved.

What was decreased isn’t cost but rather Council’s accountability to us citizens.   The videos are at  best a medium that makes it extremely tedious to review what they did.  At worst, the video quality is so poor that a record of what Council did is completely lost or the video just isn’t on the website.  The Journal is to back up the video, but information there, as we mentioned, can be completely wrong.

Could it be that—oddly enough—supposed technological advancement is a great way to hide from public scrutiny?  With council seemingly moving in a new direction, (i.e. unraveling urban renewal) perhaps citizens can look forward to the return of written minutes soon.

*The “otherwise” in the new definition of minutes can mean when the council prefers not be to televised as in the case when they interviewed applicants for boards and commissions.  There wasn’t a clerk in the meeting to take minutes and there wasn’t a video or an audio recording of either of the two meetings.  At the end of the second evening the council determined who they would be appointing to the boards and commissions but they did not record how each member voted because they did not call it voting; they called it polling – except when they called it voting and quickly corrected themselves to say they weren’t voting but polling.

(It should be noted that Councilman Clark walked out of the meeting due to his concern that the council was violating the City Charter that says decisions can only be made by motion, resolution or ordinance (Sec. 36, City Charter) and the “ayes and nays shall be taken upon the passage of all ordinances, resolutions and motions…..” (Sec.37 City Charter))

On The Lighter Side: COOL Garden Gang

Guest Contributor Susan Fifer

A new group is forming in Littleton and maybe “group” isn’t the right term. More like “movement.”

The new “COOL Garden Gang” met on March 17th ( a bit of green appropriate for St Patrick’s day?) under the tutelage of Betty Harris to form a co-op of like minded landscape and/or gardening enthusiasts who want to share ideas, design, labor, materials and resources. Some have taken, and eventually all will take Betty’s free  “Cool Gardening”  classes which focus on legal ways to conserve rainwater and grow more plant life.

The idea is to have each person define a goal within their property that they want help implementing, be it design or manual labor. The “gang” will formulate a plan for each and work together to bring it to fruition, in the style of “many hands make light work.” as well as building stronger community ties like country folk used to do with barn raisings.

As it is in its early stages there will be several planning and strategy meetings before work will begin! All are welcome and encouraged to join and become part of the movement to work as a community to improve our community!  Contact Betty at betty@bettyaharris.com for more information.