Follow the Rules Please! – Trailmark

The Charter requires the city council to approve an annual appropriation bill (our city’s budget) each year by Sept. 15.  The City Manager can make some adjustments to the approved budget without consulting the council but there are other adjustments he cannot make without the consent of council.  At the time the 2016 budget was approved by council Michael Penny and Debbie Brinkman had been meeting with the TrailMark HOA telling them a fire station was coming and the pair had been negotiating with Lockheed Martin to provide fire and emergency services to the aerospace company located outside the city limits.  You have to wonder why both Penny and Brinkman, not once, brought up the funding of a new fire station during their extensive budget discussions prior to September 15th.

Early in December of 2015 several ordinances appeared on the council’s agenda for the funding of the new TrailMark Station 19.  It became obvious just how much work had been done towards the building of Station 19.  An agreement to provide fire and emergency services to Lockheed Martin had been negotiated and ready for approval, Golden Triangle Construction had responded to an RFP and staff was recommending that they be awarded the contract for the construction of Station 19, and several accounting maneuvers were presented for approval to loan money to accounts that were to be used to pay for the construction of Station 19 but did not have the funds to meet the construction costs.

At the December 1, 2015 council meeting Councilman Clark asked the Public Works Director, Mark Ralph, why he was spending any money on Station 19 prior to any council discussion or approval of a new fire station.  Ralph said he was directed to proceed by the City Manager.  We later learned that $85,000 was spent to get Station 19 off the ground – all before the council ever discussed the expenditure let alone whether or not they supported the additional fire station.

The Charter provides oversight of our budget to prevent this type of activity.  Section 75 of our Charter states that the council, after a public hearing, may insert new items of expenditures.  The addition of new budget expenditures is not within the city manager’s authority but yet he spent close to $85,000 without the full council’s knowledge or approval.  It appears that Brinkman and Bruce Stahlman were the only two councilors aware of the city manager’s activities.

If the Charter had been followed Michael Penny would have first gone to the council to discuss whether or not the council wanted to enter into an agreement with Lockheed Martin and/or build a new fire station in TrailMark.

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Arapahoe County Prevails in Agricultural Land Dispute with Littleton

Tuesday, June 7th a ruling was issued by Judge Pratt declaring the disputed agricultural land in the Santa Fe Urban Renewal Plan was not legally included and sided with Arapahoe County’s exclusion of the disputed land from the Santa Fe Urban Renewal plan.  (Go to www.littletonviews.com to read the ruling.) What does this mean?  There’s good news and bad news.  First the good news!

  1. The Ensor property and the property where Breckenridge Brewery is located makes up the majority of the ag land in dispute.The exclusion also means that there will be no tax increment financing (TIF) collected for the next 25 years from these properties – property and sales tax increment.That is good news for the taxpayers of Littleton.
  2. A development on the Ensor property will have to be done without the use of TIF.  Again, good news for the taxpayers of Littleton.
  3. Arapahoe County, Littleton Public Schools, South Suburban, Urban Drainage and the City of Littleton will all receive the taxes that would have been diverted to LIFT (Littleton’s Urban Renewal Authority) for 25 years.
  4. Since Michael Penny, the late city manager has stated that he really was only interested in developing the Santa Fe Urban Renewal Area and the “cash cow” of the Santa Fe Area is no longer part of the plan it might be easier for the council to abolish the entire urban renewal authority in Littleton.(Brinkman is also on record as saying she did not think there would be any development through the use of urban renewal so it should be easy for her to repeal all four plans.)

The bad news:

  1. Littleton taxpayers picked up the legal tab for this legal dispute.We will try to ascertain just how many thousands of dollars this cost the taxpayers.
  2. LIFT could appeal the case. If they do it will cost the taxpayers once again as they still have no money except the money the taxpayers have loaned them.
  3. The Ensor property could develop under the current zoning and a metro district could be formed to cover the costs that TIF would have covered.

Littleton City Manager Michael Penny Fired

City Manager Michael Penny was fired by a 4-2 vote at the June 14, 2016 Littleton city council meeting.

If you have been watching city council meetings over the past few months, you have witnessed the growing disenchantment with the city manager by different members of council, each for different reasons.  But what came out during the meeting is astounding.

-Mayor Bruce Beckman cited that he had lost trust in Penny.  In particular, he related how Penny’s way of dealing with a Channel 7 news reporter on a murder/suicide incident in Littleton earlier this year put Beckman in the position of not knowing the facts.  Thus Beckman was blindsided by a reporter at a public event.   Beckman said that Penny had advised him to just respond by saying he was sorry for the loss.  As it turned out, Penny had not provided him with details that were awkward for the city of Littleton.

-As recently announced, the city of Littleton lost its lawsuit against Arapahoe County.   Littleton as led by Penny spent thousands of taxpayer dollars claiming that agricultural land could be included in an urban renewal plan.  The county prevailed, and taxpayers will also pay the county’s legal expenses for the case.

-And there’s The Grove, a 160-unit apartment complex which Penny’s staff approved even though citizens pointed out at least 17 major zoning violations.  Penny refused to give any explanation until through the persistence of council member Doug Clark, city staff had to produce a document explaining their interpretation of the city’s code that allowed for the Grove to be approved. Just reading the document will give you several reasons to challenge the legality of the approval.

– Although not mentioned at this particular meeting but a prior one, there’s the instance of Penny’s pricey new “way finding” signs in downtown Littleton.  It would be funny if it hadn’t cost the taxpayers so much money.   Why has the project not been completed?  It’s because the signs violate the city’s own sign code.

How did we get this list of problems that led to council losing their trust in the city manager?  Here’s an insight:  As one citizen reported, “Penny told me that what difference does it make how we get ‘there’ as long as we get ‘there.’” As it turned out, many council members and citizens were baffled and not at all happy about how he chose to get ‘there.’

For citizen’s minutes of the Special Session – https://littletonviews.com/2016/06/20/special-council-meeting-june-14-2016-firing-of-city-manage/

Littleton mayor explains city manager’s termination after Denver7 investigation:  City council fired city manager at special meeting

Citizen Progress—Public Executive Meetings

We can speculate that if it were not for a Littleton city charter amendment that voters passed recently, we could only guess as to the reasons why city manager Michael Penny was terminated on June 14.  As it is however, the amendment eliminated the use of city council executive sessions (meetings behind closed doors) except to discuss pending legal matters on a case filed in court.  And so the termination of Michael Penny had to happen at a public city council meeting.

And we know the reasons that city council members stated.

The June 14th meeting of city council was fairly typical.  It was public study session to discuss the abolishment of urban renewal.  Also scheduled was a private meeting to discuss pending legal matters on Burkett v City of Littleton, a case filed in court.

At the opening of the city council meeting the mayor always asks if there are any changes to the agenda.  To everyone’s surprise, this time Doug Clark requested to add an item to the agenda to terminate the employment of the city manager immediately.

We are fairly certain that if it were not for the recent city charter amendment, city council would have met behind closed doors to discuss the firing of Penny.   The law would have allowed Penny to be in the executive session or he could have requested that the council hold their meeting in public.

Because city council is not allowed to make decisions in an executive session, when they came out to a public meeting, someone would have made a motion to terminate the city manager.  A second would have been made and a vote taken.   The majority wins—no explanations given.

As things were before the amendment, all the public would have known is the result of council’s vote.  If asked, the council would only have been able to say that it is a personnel matter and that they could not respond.

Thanks to the city charter amendment, the public knows the reasoning behind each council member’s vote.  It is in the public record.  There’s no denying why.

Ironically, the two votes opposing Penny’s termination did not provide reasons for their opposition.  Their protest was directed at the other members of council for taking the action to fire.  Unfortunately, the public has no idea what about Penny’s performance made the two opposing votes want to keep him.

Cool Gardening ideas: Barriers

By Betty Harris

Observation is vitally important to understanding and solving problems.  Unfortunately not nearly enough of us are actually noticing what goes on around us.  Sometimes it is probably that we are too busy with those things that we’ve decided are important enough to have our attention.  Sometimes we may not actually decide what is important, we just let things happen as if we have no control.  To solve the problem we do need to focus… to observe what is happening and decide if it is a problem and if so what to do about it.

With this thought in mind let us turn to gardening as an example.

When we bought our property in 2010 the landscape was mainly trees and grass with some invasive plant species such as false spirea (what I renamed the bush from hell), bamboo, Russian Olive and sumac.  Over the past 6 yrs we’ve converted or transformed…depending on one’s view point from water thirsty plants to water efficient plants with a much more interesting, I think, eye pleasing layout.  I use the term layout because I’m not a landscape designer and though a visual thinker I tend to plant something to see how it does, how it looks, how tall it is, etc and then move things around to create a look that I like.

Part of the transformation was done using barrier cloth to suppress the weeds and grass which it did well enough that I didn’t have to spend the summer weeding. This is important at my age and with my focus on NOT poisoning the earth, water, plants and insects.  By observing what others have done and do around us I’ve learned a great deal about barrier cloth that I don’t personally care for.  Recent observation really made me understand more about what happens when you use it with mulch.

With my tendency to put things in the ground without knowing exactly which species or variety it is, what it’s habitats are, etc.  about 2 years ago I transplanted some iris into one of the front beds that had barrier cloth over it.  Over time I’ve applied various versions of mulch layers.  But I discovered that I had planted some dwarf iris behind some taller varieties.  So this past week it was finally time to do something about it.  So I dug up the dwarfs, then dug up the taller varieties and moved the taller ones back into the bed and the dwarfs out toward the front edges.  Which was easy to do since I wasn’t trying to divide them this year.  I ended up with extra clumps of dwarfs than I had spaces for in that bed. So, thinking that some of the outer edges were bare I decided to fill that area in with iris.

There was no easy way to do that since the barrier cloth was in the way. Taking my trusty 40 year old scissors (they don’t make them like they used to?) I cut out some sections of barrier cloth and discovered that there was at least 4 inches of mulch and soil on TOP of the cloth and there were worms in that stuff. Under the barrier cloth was a hard, bare surface that appeared to have some worm trails on top but it was hard and dry when I dug into it with no soil life that I could find.   So I dug a hole in the hard dry dirt and moved the mulch and soil from the top of the barrier cloth into the hole and planted my iris, watered and mulched slightly.

What I learned from this and from my studies is that barrier cloth mostly prevents water from penetrating the dirt.  It also interferes with other soil life.  This also goes along with what I’ve observed around town. In areas with any kind of slope covering the soil with barrier cloth, cutting holes to plant things and covering with mulch requires a drip system at each opening to get the water in the soil.  It is also obvious that heavy rains or rains over time causes the mulch to wash off and down the hill.

Now we do live in a desert even if we try to pretend otherwise.  To grow things here we need to build soil, increase soil life (biology) and retain water for the plants.  Barrier cloth interferes with water penetrating the soil just as building on the soil and adding impervious surfaces such as concrete, asphalt, and other flat rock surfaces.  If we were wise humans we’d work at getting the water to soak INTO the soil rather than having it run off to be disposed of.  Keeping the water in the soil helps increase the water table sending more water into creeks, streams, lakes and eventually into aquifers? Or perhaps the oceans.  Water hitting barrier cloth does not soak into the soil so if you want to grow things in it you have to use a lot more water and control exactly where it goes.

This year I also noticed that those areas where I had NOT improved the dirt were very thirsty and needed more watering but in the raised beds where I’ve spent 6 years building soil rather than dirt have paid off because that soil is still moist without much watering until just this past week.

Maybe we are building our own barriers against success when we cover the earth with hard surfaces that prevent nature from doing its thing.

Just an aside: Leaves are solar panels which absorb energy from the sun and convert it with other chemicals into food for plants and thus for humans.  Those leaves on your iris plants should NOT be cut off until they die in the fall.  Cutting them off is like installing solar panels on your roof to generate electricity and throwing a tarp over it. Maybe not so wise.  Besides the uneven heights and widths and shapes of leaves make a much more interesting design than hard edges.  Leave the leaves to feed the rhizomes and bulbs so you’ll have more flowers next year without a lot of extra work.  When your tulip leaves have died on their own they separate easily from the soil.  If you cut them off after the tulips bloom you get few if any tulips next year.  Try gardening like God does.  If it falls on the ground, leave it to feed the next set of plants.  Reduce the barriers, use lots of mulch, try cardboard instead, improve the soil to reduce bindweed, increase your garden’s chances for success.