City Council’s recent firing of city manager Michael Penny unleashed the fury of a small but vocal group of Penny’s old friends. Calling themselves Littleton Awake, the group has made vehement—but unfortunately not accurate—claims that Penny was a hero for Littleton.
Heroes, to maintain their mystique, need to be honest and accurate without ulterior motives. So should those who worship them.
Actual city records show that many of Penny’s “accomplishments” were pretty much already done before his arrival. Rather than to Penny, credit goes to previous City Councils or prior city managers for these accomplishments.
To keep the facts clean, remember that Penny arrived in October, 2011. Many of his “accomplishments” cost the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money for projects that would have come eventually on their own, or in retrospect are of questionable value.
In error Littleton Awake credits the former city manager Penny for the revitalization in Littleton with the following projects:
- The new King Soopers at Broadway and Littleton Blvd. In 2011 city council was concerned with what they called “under-performing shopping centers.” Before the Feb. 18, 2011 council workshop, city staff had contacted the owners of the under-performing centers to discuss their potential plans. The Dillon Corporation informed the council of their intention to rebuild and expand the King Soopers at Broadway and Littleton Blvd. Regardless, Penny negotiated an incentive agreement to turn over $500,000 of our taxes to King Soopers for a renovation that was planned to happen anyway.
- Breckenridge Brewery. Some credit Penny with bringing Breckenridge Brewery to Littleton. But the idea of a micro-brewery was first mentioned to the property owner (who then attended Sunshine meetings regularly) at a Sunshine meeting. The City Council and nearly all citizens liked the idea and no one fought the project. But Penny negotiated away some $300, 000 in taxpayer funds. He then sprung this on the City Council after the project was approved. Unfortunately the Breckenridge Brewery was recently sold to an international corporation, so we expect that this money will be leaving the community
- HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital announced plans to build a 40-room facility in Littleton on Jan. 30, 2012. Since Penny arrived just three months earlier, it is likely that this decision was in the works before his arrival. In fact there is nothing in the minutes about Health South in the City Council minutes between Penny’s start date and the announcement date by Health South.
- Alamo Draft House announced it was coming to Littleton in September 2011 a month before Penny’s arrival in Littleton.
- Anthem Memory Care Highline Place. On Sept. 2, 2008 the property was rezoned from R2 and Transitional to PD-R, specifically for a memory care facility. Because of the downturn in the economy, it was delayed. The facility was built according to rezoning that occurred before Penny’s arrival.
- CarMax’s application was filed May 6, 2011 approximately six months before Penny was hired.
- Imposed developer impact fees to make development pay its own way. The idea to charge impact fees came from a regular attendee of Sunshine who made his case to City Council. The credit should go to the individual, who was a developer who knew that developers expect to pay these fees, but that Littleton was not collecting them. However, we must keep in mind that TIF transfers a great deal more money to the developer than they would pay in impact fees, which also ends up being tantamount to the city giving back impact fees.
- Facilitated citizen outreach, Council Meet and Greets, Coffee with Council. How does this help if at the same time well-attended District quarterly meetings were discontinued, and Penny counseled council members not to attend certain citizen meetings. Who does it help to keep the council from talking to some citizens and not others?
- Developed new housing projects principally on the periphery of the City. Penny can have credit for this, but was not necessarily a benefit to Littleton. In some instances, land formerly zoned for business and commercial was rezoned for high density apartments. This change reduced the tax base, cutting city sales tax revenue, increased traffic congestion in those areas, diminished the quality of life for commuters and surrounding neighbors.
- An underhanded accomplishment for which Penny should be acknowledged along with Council woman Brinkman was the Building of Fire Station 19 at Trailmark at a cost of $ 2.6 million. Add to that undisclosed ongoing annual operational costs. Behind the scenes negotiation without City Council knowledge included a contract with Lockheed Martin, a site development plan, and an RFP for a contractor to build the station. Where did the money come from? Think “shell game.” To cover these commitments, Penny contrived for General Funds to be loaned to the Impact Fees account, to be paid back by future impact fee collections, and then reimbursed to the General Fund.
While Penny no doubt did some good in Littleton, he must be credited with some serious losses:
- increased high-density apartments without attention to resulting increases in traffic and the cost of city services such as police and rescue
- behind-the-scenes approval of the 160-unit high density apartment development called The Grove, with many code violations, which is in litigation brought by an adjacent neighborhood
- resignation of key city employees with lots of city memory which is important in problem solving
- spending General Fund monies without the required approval of City Council
- the controversial tag line Anything But Little, as if a small city is not a desirable place to live
- and those jarring neon plastic signs marking the entrance to our historic downtown Littleton, which cost us citizens an estimated $1.2 million for “wayfinding” signs
We certainly understand Littleton Awake’s wanting to defend the honor of their friend. But we propose that they stick to the facts.