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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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.