City Council to Contract with Acting City Manager Mark Relph

By Don Bruns (Comments to Council on May  9, 2017)

Mayor Beckman and other council members’ excellent rationale for selecting Mark Relph as our new City Manager was presented at your April 25 study session. It was so solid and well reasoned, at least some of it bears repeating. He:

• Demonstrates professional integrity
• Has a good understanding of city manager and council roles
• Follows best practices, providing quality information to city staff
• Is comfortable and able to work with citizens having differing views
• Is experienced in regional operations with other entities beyond the city
• Knows who the players are and recognizes problems we face
• Exhibits exemplary conduct with council and even-handed treatment of all
• Has a welcome measure of humility and a willingness to admit mistakes
• Is approaching a year of grounding experience as acting City Manager
• Fits council’s candidate profile

A central question for many of us has been how to convince municipal officials (i.e., council, and its boards and commissions) to value what Littleton already has, rather than what others want us to become—especially outsiders who see us primarily as a place to build.

As one of my former colleagues said, “Wow, you chose a great place to live. Littleton has a wonderful suburban landscape: lots of tree-lined streets, its own distinctive architecture, and the look and feel of an authentic small-town neighborhood culture.”

Taking care of what we already have means resisting alluring attempts to change our uniqueness, what we really are. It also means valuing our distinctive character qualities so that we maintain that which sets us apart from the featureless urbanization crowding in.

Hints made at your last study session that Mr. Relph’s public works background might not be optimal for city management were troubling. Isn’t stewardship of what we already have precisely what is needed to avoid taking our eyes off of the sustainability target?

In the past year as Acting City Manager, Mr. Relph’s leadership skills have been made obvious, even to just plain citizens. Indeed he seems to be committed to move forward in restoring citizen confidence in our city’s administration. This is so very welcome.

Clearly he not only places a premium on listening to citizens to find out what they value, but he knows how to do it. Unless we follow through with such commitment, ensuring a sustainable future for the city that brought us here in the first place will be impossible.

I hope that council majority will act in the best interests of Littleton’s citizens—believing that confirmation of Mr. Relph as our new city manager will move us in the right direction.

Thank-you!

Did You Know? Facilitator’s Input on Reasons for Council’s Dysfunction

City Council held an all-day retreat on April 28, 2019.  Council and staff hired a facilitator Kevin King, Founder and CEO of Transformation Point,.  He interviewed the council members and presented his findings at the meeting.    Here are some of the themes he found:

  • “Trust is relatively low among Council overall” (#7)
  • “Passive aggressive behaviors are demonstrated in Council member interactions. Bad behaviors are allowed and not addressed in a way that produces sustainable change in behavior.” (#6)
  • “Lack of strategy and clear strategic focus” (#2)
  • “Closed communication channel. Council is not communicating effectively as a unified team.”  (#4)
  • “Council is not cohesive…(and) Does not have an integrated plan or vision for the City.” (#8)

The consultant identified specific actions for the city and council to create cohesion among the group.  These include:

  • Develop a strategic plan with the community to “define the future of the City” (#1)
  • Hold council members accountable for “standards of behavior.” (#2)
  • Overcome polarity on the council (#3) and focus on constituents rather than disagreements amongst council (#8)

The complete document from Transformation Strategies is available on the City’s web site. https://www.littletongov.org/home/showdocument?id=14700

Littleton City Council’s Strategic Priorities

By Linda Knufinke

During Council’s all day retreat, Council developed and prioritized a list of projects they would like to see happen.  The City will review the prioritized list and determine plans and resources required to complete the list.   The City has not released the list of priorities but various projects are described below.

The project with the Council’s highest priority is to determine what to do with 1.9 million in Tabor excess for 2016.  They have a number of options to assess including going to the voters with specific projects, reducing property taxes and issuing checks to the voters.  Council is leaning toward asking voters to fund specific infrastructure projects.

Another project that is near the top of the list is to change how council does outreach which includes reinstituting district meetings once a quarter and being more flexible to obtain citizen input.

Other suggestions include:

  • Develop a comprehensive plan for the Columbine Square area to provide a vision to LIFT to help guide them to implement the Columbine Square Urban Renewal Plan.
  • Address long-term revenue shortfalls/
  • Engage the business community and attract business to the city.
  • Review existing zoning and recommend changes to the zoning code.
  • Create a public/private partnership to extend light rail to Highlands Ranch.
  • Decide on fire department unification/remodel/dispatch/redesign
  • Update the city-wide comp plan
  • Address design guidelines
  • Review short term private rentals like Airbnb
  • Address the aging population
  • Attention to Santa Fe and Mineral
  • Create a Business Improvement District for downtown Littleton
  • Continue to look at infrastructure

Council had a long discussion of what to do with the Saver’s property that has recently become vacant.  It was suggested the Littleton Town Hall Arts Center could move to that property.

The finance department and economic development department provided their perspective of the future of the city.   The city finance department said they anticipate less sales and use taxes with the closure of The Walmart Neighborhood Store, Colorado Fabrics and Savers.  They also anticipate an increase in property taxes.

Changes Ahead for Littleton’s Fire Department?

By Carol Brzeczek
If you are like me, you have been watching council’s discussion to send our fire dispatch to South Metro Fire and combine our entire fire department with South Metro, two separate actions.  We have been down this road before, but the idea was nipped in the bud fairly early once citizens voiced strong opposition.  The difference this time is that the citizens have not been asked, at least not yet.

Perhaps some background is needed.  The City of Littleton has its own fire department but partners with Highlands Ranch Metro District (HRMD) and Littleton Fire Protection District (LFPD).  The City charges the two partners for their pro rata share of the total cost, based on a formula that considers the number of calls for service in their areas and each area’s property values.  Property values because the two districts receive their funding from a mill levy.  Littleton pays for fire services from the General Fund, mostly derived from sales tax revenue.  If Littleton proceeds with the unification, South Metro would bill Littleton for services provided, based on an agreed upon formula.

Moving fire dispatch and merging our fire department with South Metro appeared to be on a fast track.  Fire Chief Chris Armstrong was emphatic that the move be made in 2017.  The only information provided to council – at least publicly – were facts and figures compiled by fire department personnel.  That changed at the March 21, 2017 council study session when council was informed that the Center for Public Safety Management (CPSM) had been retained to “conduct a review of the fire consolidation proposal.”   (The consolidation proposal is different from moving dispatch to South Metro, however CPSM refers to the moving of dispatch in their initial letter to the fire partners.)

Whether this merger or even the transfer of our fire dispatch is something beneficial to Littleton citizens remains an open question.  Inadequate work has been done to know the pros and cons of such a dramatic decision; a decision that once made would not be undone.  But sanity prevailed.  CPSM wrote their first response providing the Littleton Fire Partners four recommendations:

1.    Completion of our study be delayed until we receive the proposed unification agreement and can closely review this document.
2.    A Consolidation Review Group be established under the coordination of the Littleton City Manager’s office.
3.    The Consolidation Review Group should immediately obtain, from the fire chiefs developing the proposal, copies of all materials developed to date, including draft documents, and that these materials be disseminated to all officials of each of Littleton Fire Partner entities.
4.    Any meaningful decisions regarding the Littleton Fire Department, such as equipment purchases, internal organization, employment, promotions, etc., be postponed until this matter is fully resolved.  This specifically includes the transfer of the Littleton Fire Department fire communications and dispatching.”  (From their letter dated 8 April 2017)

It appears the consultants are going to be doing a thorough review of the unification proposal and have the foresight to put the decision to move our dispatch services to South Metro on hold until more information is known.

At the last council meeting it was reported that the consultant has 30 days to respond to the unification proposal.  The five elected representatives from the five fire departments impacted by unification were said to be “under-whelmed” with the proposal.  A couple of council members asked what problem they were trying to fix, or as one said, it looks like a solution but for what problem.  Mayor Beckman assured council and the public that the consultant was asking the hard questions and would be looking at not only the proposal but alternatives.

To read more about CPSM recommendations, see their letter posted on www.littletonviews.com.

For the Record: Mineral Avenue Update

By John Watson
Citizens along West Mineral Avenue spent 2016 making daily complaints by email, text and social media postings in an effort to control speed, access, accidents and safety along West Mineral Avenue.  The issue exists since Mineral is the principal east/west arterial to Santa Fe/C470 and downtown Littleton and because the Littleton City Council  changed zoning along West Mineral Avenue to allow high density oversize apartment units with minimal setbacks in that location.  The complaints were:
•     Frequent accidents, & speeding,
•    Two deaths,
•     Unsafe & difficult residential access onto Mineral Avenue & for turning,
•     The inability of school buses to enter/exit Mineral during the school season,
•     Many U-turns out of the apartments during rush hour,
•    Inability for pedestrians to cross Mineral Avenue at any time

After hundreds of complaints, the City Council and City Manager directed a study of the issues and  solicitated proposals from citizens. The city conducted a series of local meetings and hired traffic engineer Aaron Heuerman, a West Mineral Avenue resident. Councilman Debbie Brinkman, Aaron Heuerman and City Manager Mark Relph attended the meetings and actually solicited citizen input. Impressive.

The citizens suggested traffic lights, lane changes,  limited U-turns, traffic light changes and widening of the “suicide lane” to turn left into oncoming eastbound traffic during rush hour.  Several months of refinement resulted in a series of three successive plans to change traffic patterns, safety, speed limits and access.  Though none of the residents were traffic engineers, they clearly understood the problems.  Many resident requests were incorporated into the staged improvements to what most originally considered an unsolvable problem.

Phase One has been incorporated.  One improvement consisted of lane changes to widen the “suicide lane” for access onto Mineral, which made it possible to cross the first two lanes and await an opportunity to get into oncoming traffic.  The traffic light at Polo Ridge, originally only for horse riding, was activated to be active during rush hour.  Since traffic patterns and distances did not allow another traffic light in this location, that proposal was dropped. U-turns were limited to one intersection considerably down Mineral, away from the busiest intersections. Speed limits were dropped from 45 mph (which means 60 mph) to 40 mph. Chief Doug Stephens had the officers use unmarked cars to stop unlawful U-turns and speeders.  The result – a few traffic tickets, no more accidents, school buses can enter/exit the subdivisions. U-turns are not blocking four lanes of traffic at rush hours. The local residents who used to accost me about “what am I going to do about it” are reduced to silence.  Ahhhh.

We must thank Mark Relph for this as well. He listened patiently. What started out  a screaming match turned into suggestions and a formal plan leading to success. Councilman Debbie Brinkman was helpful by listening as well. Traffic engineer Aaron Heuerman designed the solutions and incorporated them into the city plans.

We have a ways to go. The “pork chop” entrance along Platte Canyon is ignored by drivers and will need to be modified when the budget permits. The lack of setbacks for the apartments will create an ice field on Mineral whenever we get that kind of weather again.  Too bad the apartment impact fees were used to build a fire station at Trailmark.   But the city and its management did respond. The squeaky wheel got the grease.

Gardening: The Sun Shines on Everyone

By Betty Harris

Solar power in our minds used to mean large, heavy panels mounted on a roof or spread across a field. But the sun shines on us all and solar panel costs have dropped to the point that in NYC you can get a sandwich at a solar powered food cart, eat it at a solar powered bus stop while charging your cell phone with a solar powered jacket. But one thing we do not seem to think about is the fact that leaves are solar panels.

Leaves turn sunlight into carbon sugars that feed the plants, and the plant exchanges these sugars with fungi and soil animals in exchange for the minerals and nutrients that the plants need. It’s like a barter system.

This system works wonderfully and has for probably a few million years, but we humans have been messing up the works since the development of agriculture. Which, by the way, I’m convinced was a practice started by women. Think about it. You and your “tribe” are nomads, following the herds of wild animals. The men kill animals when they can, but it is not always possible since their weapons are primitive. So the women, while hauling a kid on one hip and trying to keep up with another 2 or so, walk around gathering fruits, roots, and seeds to keep the bellies fed while they wait for the men to drag some dead beast home. Imagine that you are the woman and a wild animal comes along that you have to avoid by running, etc., and your pouch of grain seeds gets dropped on the ground as you drag the kids and whatever else you are carrying to safety. You would remember this incident and where it happened.

You go back after the animal has given up and gone on to hunt smaller game. You find your grain pouch torn up by the beast and your seeds scattered. You gather as many as you can because you’ve already spent so much energy accumulating them. Sadly you move on to safety and leave a bunch of them on the ground.

Next season your tribe comes through the same area and there where your torn pouch lays is a mass of plants growing that look just like the wheat or grain that you had gathered. Then light comes on in your brain and you discuss it with all the other females of the tribe and an idea forms.

Well, that was a fun foray into the imagination – but back to the solar panels. Since leaves and plants have developed to produce carbon sugars from sunlight, water, etc., what happens if we get overly enthusiastic with trimming our plants and bushes? We prune and trim some things for proper purposes, like pruning an apple tree to keep limbs from crossing and rubbing which then allows disease to enter the tree. We sometimes prune things because we don’t like the “look” or shape. Some trim bushes to make them look like animals, etc. But what does this do to the plant itself?

Too much pruning can sap the plants strength and weaken it. Such as cutting off the tops of tulips after the blooms are spent and before the plant’s leaves have had enough time to store carbon sugars in the bulbs. Such as cutting off the tops of iris plants when they have finished blooming, which makes them look like odd green fans. Since those leaves are solar panels we are robbing them of the nutrients needed to survive and bloom more gloriously next year.

So let’s also assume that you do prune at the right time and just the right amount. If you bag that in plastic and give it to the trash man, then you are throwing away part of the plants that contain nutrients that nature intended to be recycled. So to save money and the environment, do what Eric Toensmeier calls “Chop and Drop”. By cutting up the branches and leaves into smaller pieces you can drop them at the base of the plant that grew them just as nature intends those solar panels to be used. First they feed the plant and then when they decompose and the worms eat them they feed the plant again.

Unfortunately for we humans, we’ve been taught that flower beds should be bare of “litter” and weeds and only covered with wood chips we buy in a bag at the garden shop. By so doing, we waste money and water since the soil dries out and we’re left with a piece of trash. Save the money, save the environment, save the planet. Keep the solar panels on plants unless there is a valid reason to cut them off. Mulch with the same solar panels around the base of the plants and keep the soil covered with mulch that doesn’t come in a plastic bag. Once you learn to do this, you’ll find you will have a lot of worms in your soil, in your flower beds, in your garden. And you won’t have to spend money on fertilizers. Those of us who see ourselves as stewards of this great planet know that fertilizer wasn’t intended to come in a plastic bag.

Appreciate those solar panels. Cutting them off would be like putting solar panels on your house and covering them with a tarp. We are wiser than that.