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Street budget robust in 2018, but worries loom

City hopes to repair as much pavement as possible before funds dwindle

DAVID GILBERT

Posted Monday, March 12, 2018 10:21 am

dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com

Littleton is poised to kick off a robust season of roadway improvements thanks to a budget boost from a ballot measure last fall that allowed the city to keep extra revenue, although road maintenance remains far short of the ideal and budget woes loom on the horizon.

The city’s road repair budget this year is nearly $4.8 million, high above the average of $1.4 million, according to city engineer Brent Thompson, who presented the 2018 road repair plan at the March 6 city council meeting.

Voters approved a measure last fall allowing the city to keep $1.9 million in excess revenue otherwise due to be refunded to taxpayers under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR. A little more than a quarter of the money, $550,000, is earmarked for a revamping of the intersection of Federal Boulevard and Bowles Avenue, with the rest of the windfall slated for various road upgrades.

The city also carried over $400,000 from last year’s road repair budget, which Thompson attributed to high staff turnover in 2017 slowing or stalling progress on projects. Some of the carryover cash will be put into pedestrian crossing improvements, including flashing beacons at six locations, Thompson said.

Some of the carryover funds will also be allocated for a structural analysis of traffic-light poles, Thompson said.

“The importance of this structural analysis became painfully evident two weeks ago,” Thompson said. “We had a mast arm on a signal on County Line Road that the weld failed at the connection between the post and the mast arm. We were able to close the street quickly and there were no injuries. We installed a temporary signal the same day, and we’ve ordered a new pole, but that will be a six-month lead time.”

Meanwhile, Littleton’s pavement is aging, and the longer it goes without regular maintenance, the more expensive it becomes to repair, said City Manager Mark Relph.

Relph said the $4.8 million road budget this year is a happy anomaly, and that future years will likely drop back closer to the $1.4 million norm. A 2014 study suggested that Littleton should be spending $3 million to $4 million every year for 10 years to bring the roads up to par, but that possibility seems unlikely.

Road repairs come out of the city’s capital projects fund, which is drawn from construction use taxes and gasoline taxes. Increased fuel efficiency of vehicles has caused gas tax revenue collection to slow, and construction use taxes vary widely from year to year. Previous years have seen city council beef up the capital projects fund by transferring surplus cash from the city’s general fund, but those surpluses are starting to dwindle as city costs increase.

“Unless we solve the capital projects funding problem, we will have a very serious problem and will not be able to meet the life cycle standards to manage our pavement,” Relph said. “2018 is an exception because of TABOR. Once that goes away in 2019, Public Works will be looking at a very minimum investment, and we will not be able to meet the standard for the typical pavement management practice and we will fall behind.”

The life cycle of pavement is about 50 years, Relph said, but that’s with routine maintenance — and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure..

“We’ll get to a condition where (road) reconstruction will be on our doorstep and we will not be able to afford that in the long run. In many parts of the city we haven’t touched the road surface in decades, so we’re already behind,” Relph said.

The city conducted a survey of its pavement condition in 2014, and found it to be in the 35th percentile of quality statewide.

“We have a substantial backlog of streets rated fair to poor,” Thompson said. “Our goal is to do the worst first. We have to prioritize with the funds we have allocated.”

Other contingencies could arise, Relph said, such as the possible elimination of Community Development Block Grants the city uses to improve sidewalks in lower-income parts of town.

“Every year we hear that block grants are likely to be cut,” Relph said. “I’m not surprised the Trump administration is looking at that. If they are, so be it … If we lose those, it puts more burden back on the local government.”

Beyond road maintenance, investments will be required to combat traffic congestion, Thompson said. An “intelligent transportation system,” that is, a high-tech traffic control system, would go a long way, he said.

“We cannot totally build our way out of congestion,” Thompson said. “It’ll take intelligent signals, a fiber network to allow real time traffic response, and coordination and interconnectivity with regional systems to manage our congestion. It would provide the ability to make signal adjustments from the office — a real-time response to congestion.”

Communicating the city’s road upgrade challenges and schedule to the public is important, said councilmember Karina Elrod.

“The city’s (roads are) not going to get fixed in a few years,” Elrod said. “We hear citizens ask, ‘Well, why wasn’t it done in my neighborhood?’ or, ‘Those streets look worse, why not go over there?’ That’s some of the conversation. It’s important to convey as we embark on this approach that it will take five, 10, 15, 20 years, or that it’s continuously ongoing.”


Council approves LIFT appointments

Process shadowed by controversy over vacancies

Posted Friday, February 9, 2018 10:28 pm

David Gilbert

dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com

City council approved three new members to the board of Littleton Invests for Tomorrow, or LIFT, the city’s urban renewal board, and reappointed two other members at their Feb. 6 meeting.

The new appointments are Jack Rychesky, whose term ends in 2021, and Cindy Christensen and Joseph Orrino, whose terms end in 2020. Kevin Seiler and Nicholas Millar both saw their seats on the board renewed, with their new terms ending in 2023.

“I hope the LIFT board gets to work and they can get some sort of proposal from property owners in Columbine Square and can do something positive for the community,” said City Councilmember Kyle Schlachter, who recently stepped down as a member of the board.

Columbine Square is a long-vacant shopping center in west Littleton and the city’s final remaining urban renewal district.

The number of vacancies on the board had been a matter of contention between the board and city council in recent weeks.

Two board members, Kyle Schlachter and Karina Elrod, were elected to city council in November. Elrod stepped down from LIFT shortly after the election, but Schlachter remained.

Schlachter said he remained on the board with the approval of City Attorney Steve Kemp because he was the board’s signatory, and didn’t want to leave the board without a member who could sign checks and documents.

Board member Ryan Toole announced his resignation from the board late last year, bringing the number of vacancies to three in anticipation of Schlachter’s resignation. Schlachter resigned from the board shortly before interviews for new members began in late January.

Board member Carol Brzeczek told city council at their Dec. 19 meeting that the board believed there might be as many as five vacancies, because some members’ terms may have been improperly set at some point in the past, throwing off the end dates of current members’ terms. Brzeczek said the board ought to reconstruct its membership from its beginnings as the Riverfront Authority in 1980 to determine the validity of current members’ terms.

City council agreed at the meeting to an expedited search process for new members with a goal of appointing them by early February.

City Councilmember Carol Fey introduced an amendment to the motion for an expedited search process, “to require that interviews do not begin until Council has received a recommendation from the LIFT Board on the exact number of vacancies as the LIFT Board understands it, and that the interview process is open to the public.” The amendment was approved 4-3.

The reconstruction of the board’s membership, though, came from City Clerk Wendy Heffner, who confirmed the five vacancies.

The discrepancy didn’t sit well with resident Linda Knufinke, who at the Feb. 6 city council meeting called the discrepancy a “disturbing incident.”

“Maybe if it were written in Russian, it would have been easier to understand,” Knufinke said, placing a Russian translation of the amendment’s text on the overhead projector at the speaker’s dais.

“You’ve heard of fake news, and now we have fake laws,” Knufinke said.

Heffner said later by email that she felt the council “followed the spirit of the motion.”

Mayor Debbie Brinkman said she felt satisfied with the end result of the process.

“At the end of the day, we wanted to make sure terms are correct, they are, and we wanted to make sure it was a public process, and it was,” Brinkman said.

Fey said the whole process became more difficult than necessary.

“It feels like a tempest in a teapot,” Fey said. “We got to the right place, but we made it really hard to get there.”

City Manager Mark Relph and City Attorney Steve Kemp did not respond to requests for comment.


Littleton council approves new developer hearings

Informal, non-binding meetings will tell builders if they’re on the right track

Posted Monday, January 22, 2018 3:16 pm

David Gilbert

dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com

With development going gangbusters in Littleton — and becoming a hot-button political issue — Littleton City Council added a new step to the planning process for large projects that it hopes will guide developers toward building desirable additions to the landscape.

Council voted 5-1, with Kyle Schlachter absent and Carol Fey the dissenting vote, at its Jan. 16 meeting to add a new step, called a Preliminary Project Plan, or PPP, to the city’s zoning code.

The move allows for applicants seeking to build a planned development — generally a large-scale project combining elements such as retail and housing — to request an informal, non-binding meeting with city council to discuss the project before a formal application is submitted.

Developers would not speak at the meetings, which would be open to the public. City staff would present its interpretation of the project to the planning commission or city council, who would offer feedback.

Community Development Director Jocelyn Mills, who presented the plan to council, said this process could have helped prevent wasted time on projects like a proposed storage facility on Santa Fe Drive last year that was rejected by council on its second reading.

“The applicant could’ve heard initial thoughts from city council if they had been able to,” Mills said.

She said applicants have been asking for such a process to get “the pulse of council.”

Mixed reviews

Councilmembers were largely supportive.

“I think this makes a more open and transparent process early on, when we still have an opportunity to begin to influence and represent what the community is desiring or would likely support,” said Councilmember Karina Elrod.

Not everyone was convinced.

“This benefits the development community,” said resident Pam Chadbourne, who often comments on matters before city council. “To the degree their decisions are good, OK. But I don’t see a lot of developers making great decisions.”

Chadbourne said she believes city staff has not adequately enforced city code as written in the past, citing the Grove development — now called Vita — which spurred citizen lawsuits.

“Staff should enforce code,” Chadbourne said. “It’s their job. It’s a profession. It’s their duty. This is a stopgap for that not happening. ”

Carol Brzeczek, another familiar face in city politics, who led the charge against the city’s urban renewal efforts in recent years, said her research suggested that other communities have found PPPs to be irrelevant in their planning processes.

“If you’re going to do this, could you do a trial run before you add it to code?” Brzeczek asked.

No developers spoke at the open hearing.

Councilmember Carol Fey said she was concerned that the process didn’t make room for citizen comments and that the city planning and zoning staff’s focus is too developer-centric.

“The purpose of zoning is to protect the rights and expectations of the current property owners,” Fey said. “To exclude them from the process of zoning doesn’t make sense. If we’re trying to give the developer a reality check, we have to give them citizen input.”

Adding a citizen input component to a PPP could land the city in hot water, said acting city attorney Brandon Dittman.

“The more we move toward a quasi-judicial meeting, the more we’re bound to the decisions made or input given,” Dittman said.

Fey pushed back, saying that the meetings would be informal and non-binding, but Dittman said that didn’t matter.

“We can call it whatever we want, but courts look at what happened,” Dittman said. “The more something looks like a public meeting, the more likely a court is to see it as one.”

Lack of public comment a concern

Elrod said she was concerned that if the public were allowed to comment in PPPs, the developers could too, diluting the purpose of the meeting.

Mayor Debbie Brinkman said PPP meetings will be televised and open to the public, so citizens can contact their councilmembers to express their opinions.

Fey introduced an amendment to the motion “to include public comment in the Preliminary Project Plan so the developer gets complete and realistic input.” The motion failed 4-2, with Fey and Peggy Cole in favor.

Councilmember Patrick Driscoll, who campaigned on a goal of “opening up” the city to worthwhile development, was enthusiastic about the new process.

“This is a huge plus for the city,” Driscoll said. “This is working with local developers that have offices in Denver, or in some cases Littleton. They will not be leaving this area, and need this reinforcement early on rather than spending thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars to only find out later that they were going down the wrong track all along.”


Council debates LIFT appointments

Number of vacancies on urban renewal board unclear

Posted Tuesday, December 26, 2017 11:44 am

David Gilbert

dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com

Littleton residents have until Jan. 8 to apply to join the city’s urban renewal board, although how many seats are up for grabs isn’t immediately clear amid controversy over the actions of board chair and City Councilmember Kyle Schlachter.

Though in a normal year the deadline for new applicants would be Jan. 31, city council voted at its Dec. 19 meeting to bump up the deadline in an effort to restaff the board of Littleton Invests for Tomorrow, or LIFT, after the election of Schlachter and LIFT board member Karina Elrod to council and the resignation of Vice Chair Ryan Toole.

Elrod and Toole have already resigned, but Schlachter has remained on the board — he says after consulting with City Attorney Steve Kemp — as Schlachter is the board’s designated signer, and the process of transferring signatory powers would be better suited to a handover to a newly appointed chair.

Schlachter canceled LIFT’s December meeting, he said because of a lack of agenda items and out of a desire to wait for the seating of a new board.

Schlachter is “holding the LIFT board hostage,” said Carol Brzeczek, a LIFT board member who ran against Elrod and Schlachter for city council’s at-large seats but came in last in a four-way race.

Brzeczek said the board discussed at its last meeting in October that the terms of current members may be out of alignment, and that the seven-member board may have as many as five vacancies. She said the matter could have been resolved at the December meeting but was not addressed because of the cancellation.

“Mr. Schlachter has made his intentions very clear: he will retain his chairmanship of the LIFT board until new appointments have been made,” Brzeczek said. “Mr. Schlachter does not intend to hold a meeting, nor does he intend to chair a meeting or create an agenda for a meeting.”

Brzeczek recommended that the city council request Schlachter’s immediate resignation from the LIFT board.

City Clerk Wendy Heffner said in a phone call that an analysis of the board’s membership terms is in its final stages.

Councilmember Carol Fey joined Brzeczek in calling for Schlachter’s resignation from the LIFT board, or for him to recuse himself from the vote on whether to expedite the search process for new members, calling his presence a conflict of interest.

“There’s not an actual conflict here,” Kemp said. “Councilman Schlachter receives no personal benefit from whether this recruitment is expedited or not … The purpose of the conflict of interest law is to prevent an individual from receiving any kind of substantial benefit.”

Fey was steadfast.

“You’re the attorney, but going back to Section 37 of the city charter, what I see there is it says (councilmembers should recuse themselves from votes) if a matter impacts a councilmember. It doesn’t say impacts the councilmember financially. I would guess there are ways a councilmember could be positively impacted, such as span of control and influence, that are not financial.”

Kemp reiterated his stance that voting to bump up the deadline for new appointments to the board gave Schlachter no discernible benefit.

Mayor Debbie Brinkman said she supported Kemp’s stance that Schlachter’s participation in the vote was proper.

“Expediting this shows there’s a value on council in the importance of doing this at a different pace,” Brinkman said. “As quickly as we can we’re going through the process so they can get back to business.”

Schlachter said after the meeting that he retained his seat on the board in order to continue acting as its signer, and canceled the December meeting due to a lack of significant agenda items.

The motion to expedite the search process passed unanimously. A subsequent amendment by Fey to not start interviews for new board members until the city has received a report on the total number of vacancies passed 4-3, with Elrod, Schlachter and Patrick Driscoll voting against.


Breakfast with Council – 11/30/2017

Fire Partners, Littleton Fire Protection District and Highlands Ranch Metro District

Littleton City Council in attendance

Mayor Debbie Brinkman

Mayor Pro Tem

Jerry Valdes

Council Member Peggy Cole

Council Member Patrick Driscoll

Council Member Carol Fey

Council Member Schlachter

Littleton Staff

Fire Chief Armstrong

Chief Jeff Tasker

Littleton Firefighter Union

Joel Heinemann

Highlands Ranch Metro District (HRMD)

Terry Nolan

Renee Anderson

Mark Dickerson

Jim Worley

Carolyn Schierholz

Allen Dreher

Littleton Fire Protection District (LFPD)

David Zierk

David Oppeneim

Cindy Hathaway

Keith Gardner

Mayor Brinkman welcomed and thanked all for coming to the breakfast. Introductions were made and Mayor Brinkman reviewed the agenda.

Reasons why the two boards terminated the partnership Mayor Brinkman stated that partnership started 37 years ago and she would like to hear from LFPD and HRMD.

LFPD

Mr. Keith Gardner explained why the LFPD has decided to pursue unification with South Metro. LFPD has financial issues that need to be addressed, along with response times. LFPD’s mill levy is 7.67, but they are looking at 10 mills, just to keep the same service for their customers. South Metro has a mill of 9.25 with no plans to raise them. Mr. Gardner stated that the failure of council to approve the dispatch move to South Metro was like a slap in the face for LFPD. He encouraged the Littleton City Council to approve the unification process. Mr. Gardner stated this is move is budget driven, but the citizens would have the same firefighters from the same stations.

HRMD
Carolyn Schierholz stated she hopes Littleton Fire comes with both partners to South Metro. Having all three entities moving to South Metro at the same time will benefit all three partners, we are much stronger together.

This move is about spending public money responsibly, response times, personnel and the best equipment. HRMD has vetted this decision. South Metro is the most cost effective, and they are accredited and are audited every 5 years by an outside agency. Denver is not an option and South Metro’s cost will be long-term stability for the partners.

What is your next step?
HRMD will be signing an IGA with South Metro for 2019. South Metro will have an inclusion election in May of 2018. If the inclusion fails, HRMD will pay South Metro until their mill levy reaches 9.25 mills.

Mayor Brinkman stated that as the partners move forward on their own, the City of Littleton has fewer options. 1) Try to maintain a fire department on our own. 2) Go smaller, TABOR and administrative fees. 3) Unify with South Metro. 4) Continue to work with partners. We as a city are losing more and more opportunity the longer we wait.

Ms. Schierholz stated this comes down to pricing. A consultant is not necessary, we all need to let go of some control. This is all about finances.

Both LFPD and HRMD stated they would be willing to share their financial numbers with Littleton City Council.

Chief Armstrong this is about the citizens, a good working environment for firefighters, financial sustainability, and best practice response times. The community gets to decide what service they want to be provided. At this point, call volume is up and we will not have the capacity to keep up without the partners.

Littleton Firefighter Union Joel Heinemann stated the firefighters voted unanimously for unification, this would make Littleton Fire truly sustainable. The South Metro board is willing to work with the districts.

Council Member Cole asked why would we not include the entire metro area as a district. Ms. Schierholz stated Denver has never provided EMS, so we would still be providing that outside of any district agreement. South Metro provides fire and EMS.

Council Member Fey stated we have not received any numbers to analyze. We need to know level of service (what), analysis of other options (how), and we need to see specific financials regarding unification. We have never received all of this information.

Mayor Brinkman thanked everyone for coming and hoped we could still have a good working relationship with the partners.

Wendy Heffner
City Clerk


Highlands Ranch Metro District to cut ties with Littleton Fire Rescue

Move comes on heels of city’s other fire partner also announcing plans to merge with South Metro

Posted Friday, December 1, 2017 12:01 pm

David Gilbert

dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com

And then there was one.

The Highlands Ranch Metro District informed the City of Littleton on Nov. 29 that it would be joining Littleton Fire Protection District in severing ties with the city’s fire department and merging with the larger South Metro Fire Rescue, leaving Littleton Fire Rescue — the city’s department — as the sole remaining entity in a decades-old partnership.

The partners, who plan to commence service with South Metro on Jan. 1, 2019, strongly encouraged the City of Littleton to join them in merging with the large regional district that already provides fire protection for much of the southeast metro area.

The partners made their plea to Littleton city officials in an early-morning meeting at the Littleton Museum on Nov. 30, saying that without the combined strength of Littleton Fire Protection District — which covers the western portion of Centennial, Bow Mar, Columbine Valley, Chatfield and parts of unincorporated Arapahoe County west of the Littleton city limits — as well as Highlands Ranch Metro District, Littleton will be left with a fire department too puny to adequately meet the needs of citizens.

Irreconcilable differences

Representatives of LFPD and Highlands Ranch cited similar reasons for the split: increasing costs, a desire for improved service and financial sustainability, and frustration with what they described as an unequal partnership that gives unfair control to Littleton city officials.

South Metro first approached Littleton and its fire partners to propose a wholesale unification in August 2016, said LFPD Board of Directors President Keith Gardner.

“We crunched the numbers and found that over the next five or 10 years, we were looking at a climb to a mill levy of about 10, up from our current 7.67,” Gardner said. “South Metro was offering to lock us in at 9.25, with a higher level of service. How do you go to your voters and say, ‘Hey I’ve got a solution for better service at 10 mills for the next four or five years,’ when you’ve got a 9.25 sitting out there?”

The scales were tipped for LFPD earlier this year when Littleton City Council initially rejected a plan to merge the city’s fire dispatch services with South Metro, Gardner said. LFPD and Highlands Ranch sought mediation with the city over that decision, saying the plan’s proposed cost savings and increased level of service made it a no-brainer.

Though the city eventually relented and approved the merger, “the damage was done,” Gardner said. “It was a big slap in the face. To be discounted like that accelerated things and made us feel we’re on our own here.”

Highlands Ranch officials echoed LFPD, saying that merging with South Metro offers a level of financial sustainability and quality of service — as well as predictable governance — that they feel Littleton can’t offer.

“Finances are the key thing,” said Highlands Ranch Metro District board member Carolyn Schierholz. “We’re stewards of public money and we’ve got to spend it wisely.”

Schierholz said when she started on the board a decade ago, Highlands Ranch was spending $6 million a year on fire protection. Today she said the number is closer to $9 million without a decrease in response times. South Metro, on the other hand, is offering a fixed rate for the foreseeable future, she said, adding that South Metro also offers a higher-rated service, with an Insurance Service Office rating of 1, compared to Littleton’s 2 — which may translate into a lower property tax rate for businesses.

Schierholz brought up a concept that emerged time and again in the meeting: economies of scale. South Metro’s large size means it can more quickly respond to large-scale emergencies or a variety of simultaneous incidents, she said.

“When 70 to 80 percent of our calls are medical, every second counts,” Schierholz said. “Same with a house burning down.”

Unified theory

Representatives of the partners eagerly invited Littleton to join them in a wholesale merger with South Metro — something that would need to be approved by city voters. During a special election in May, residents of the LFPD area and Highlands Ranch will decide whether South Metro can expand its boundaries to cover them. The City of Littleton would need to participate in a similar election to join South Metro.

If Littleton decides to stick it out alone, it could find itself too small to function safely, Schierholz said.

“With two or three stations, you can’t respond to a nursing home fire,” Schierholz said. “You just can’t. And you can’t depend on your neighbors to pick you up every time you trip. I hate to say it, but we’re playing with lives here.”

Littleton Fire Rescue Chief Chris Armstrong threw his support behind the merger proposal.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what patch the firefighters wear, what truck they ride, or who cuts their paycheck,” Armstrong said. “They want to provide the best service they can, and they know right now they’re not. Our resources are strained and our call volume is going up. Smaller departments just can’t compete with economies of scale.”

Littleton residents could be on the hook for costs above South Metro’s 9.25 mill levy offer if the city decided to stick it out alone, according to rough preliminary scenarios prepared by Littleton Finance Director Tiffany Hooten and presented at a city council study session on Nov. 28, with mill levies rising as high as 16 under a scenario that retains EMS service, to just shy of 10 under a bare-bones austerity scenario.

The firefighters themselves are overwhelmingly in favor of a wholesale merger, said Joel Heinemann, president of the Littleton firefighters’ union.

“This is an opportunity,” Heinemann said. “The firefighters’ association members have unanimously voted to approve moving toward unification. We hope the city is part of it.”

Littleton City Council members kept their cards close to the vest at the Nov. 30 meeting, with Carol Fey and Peggy Cole saying they needed to see more analysis and information on various scenarios before they endorsed a course of action. Patrick Driscoll and Karina Elrod did not attend the meeting.

“We need to vet our numbers out more,” said Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman. “We haven’t run down the options. We have fewer options now than we had prior.”

Highlands Ranch Metro District board member Mark Dickerson was resolute.

“You have an easy sell to constituents,” Dickerson said to Brinkman. “You have to have good fire protection. The voters have to have their input. But when it gets down to it, do you have the sufficient resources left to provide the services you promised? I don’t see it. What choice do you have?”


Newcomers lead Littleton City Council races

District 3 winner Carol Fey updates vote tallies on a white board at St. Patrick’s Brewing Company. Photo by David Gilbert

Posted Tuesday, November 7, 2017 8:09 pm

By David Gilbert

It was a good night for newcomers in Littleton’s city council election.

According to results posted Littleton’s new city council members are Patrick Drsicoll in District 1, Carol Fey in District 3 and Karina Elrod and Kyle Schlachter in the at-large seats. Incumbents Phil Cernanec and Doug Clark appear to have lost their seats.

Winners will be sworn in at the Nov. 21 city council meeting.

Here’s a look at how things shaped up in unofficial results released by Arapahoe, Jefferson and Douglas counties.

District 1

Patrick Driscoll: 57.9 percent

Kama Suddath: 42.0 percent

District 1 covers downtown and the city’s northwest portion. The seat was open this year, after council member Bill Hopping decided not to pursue re-election.

Driscoll, an account executive for a mortgage lender, ran on what he characterized as a “pro-business” platform, earning the support of the nascent Littleton Business Chamber. He was also one of four candidates to earn the endorsement of the Littleton firefighters’ union.

“It’s time to get to work,” Driscoll said of his win at an election night party at Carboy Winery. “Let’s start changing things and get moving. I love the support. I’m thrilled for Kyle and Karina, and looking forward to working with them.”

Kama Suddath, a public health nurse, focused on what she called a need to develop more comprehensive, strategic approaches to growth and traffic concens. Although she began the race a sort of outsider, later in the campaign Suddath more often appeared at candidate forums alongside candidates associated with the Sunshine community watchdog group: Carol Brzeczek, Carol Fey and Doug Clark.

District 3

Carol Fey: 52.3 percent

Phil Cernanec: 40.8 percent

Steven Esses: 6.9 percent

District 3 covers the city’s southwest quadrant. The race became a sort of referendum on growth, with frontrunners Cernanec and Fey hashing it out over issues of development.

Fey, owner of a publishing company, ran against Cernanec as a reformer, often challenging what she perceived as Cernanec’s indifference to citizen concerns over growth and development. Fey often shared the stage with at-large candidates Carol Brzeczek and Doug Clark, all of whom are closely associated with the Sunshine community activist group.

“It’s delightful to be at the finish line,” Fey said at an election night party at St. Patrick’s Brewing Company. “The campaign has been a life-changing experience. I feel like I could go up to anybody and listen to what they have to say.”

Incumbent Cernanec, first elected in 2009 and mayor from 2013-15, is a retired financial adviser. Cernanec was endorsed by the Littleton Business Chamber and was one of four candidates to earn the endorsement of the Littleton firefighters’ union.

“I’m surprised,” Cernanec said of his defeat. “I’m disappointed I won’t be able to serve with Kyle (Schlachter) and Karina (Elrod), but I’m proud of them and the energy they’re bringing to council.”

Esses, a softball coach and retired public health specialist, ran an outsider campaign focused on a conservative approach to growth and development.

At-large

Karina Elrod: 26.2 percent

Kyle Schlachter: 25.6 percent

Doug Clark: 24.7 percent

Carol Brzeczek: 23.5 percent

The candidate with the most votes will serve a four-year term, and the runner up will serve a two-year term.

Two at-large seats were up for grabs, with Clark looking to defend his seat, and another open after Mayor Bruce Beckman decided not to run for re-election. All three at-large challengers sit on the city’s urban renewal board.

Elrod, who works in budget management for the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, ran a high-profile campaign closely tied to Schlachter’s, based on streamlining “smart growth” efforts. Elrod also touted her endorsement from the Littleton firefighter’s association.

“I never expected this,” Elrod said. “I feel so humbled by it all. A lot of people believed in me and understood my commitment. I came from the heart. The campaign was a big learning experience. I ran a positive campaign from the beginning to the end. Positive is how we’re going to make things happen.”

Schlachter is the outreach coordinator for the state’s Wine Industry Development Board. Both Elrod and Schlachter sit on the urban renewal board, and were seen in joint mailers from a third-party committee. Schlachter ran on a platform centered on reforming the city’s comprehensive plan and taking a hard look at the city’s budget. Schlachter was one of four candidates endorsed by the Littleton firefighters’ union.

“I’ve learned a lot from months of walking and talking to people,” Schlachter said. “I’m humbled and honored to represent our citizens, and I’m proud of the campaign I ran. It was one of positivity and unity. I can’t thank my wife and children enough, and all the people who supported me.”

Incumbent Clark has served on council four times in the last 20 years, and has twice served as mayor. Clark, along with Fey and Brzeczek, is closely associated with the Sunshine community watchdog group. Clark and Brzeczek campaigned closely together, sending out joint mailers.

“I’m relieved,” Clark said of his apparent loss. “It’ll free up my Tuesday nights. My wife’s got a big honey-do list for me. She’s been very patient.”

Brzeczek, owner of a custom textile company, served on the Littleton Board of Education from 1993-97 and sits on the city’s urban renewal board. Closely associated with Sunshine, Brzeczek narrowly lost to Debbie Brinkman for the District 4 council seat in 2015. Brzeczek ran on a platform of preserving the city’s character in the face of development efforts.

“I don’t know how I’m feeling,” Brzeczek said of her apparent loss. “My life hasn’t changed that much. Life goes on and the voters have spoken.”


Voters to decide whether to let more Sunshine in

Controversial group has big presence on council ballot

Posted Monday, October 9, 2017 6:10 pm

David Gilbert

A loosely affiliated community activist group with a core of longtime supporters known for their opposition to a variety of development efforts is seeing renewed attention this fall, as several central figures are running for city council.

Key figures of Sunshine say the group is only a weekly discussion meeting of active citizens, with no dues, charter or membership roster. Because the group takes no official stance on city issues, proponents say, it cannot be held accountable for the actions of its attendees. Opponents, however, call it a stumbling block to progress that employs scare tactics to make its points.

On this year’s ballot, three of the nine city council candidates are closely associated with Sunshine: at-large incumbent Doug Clark, at-large candidate Carol Brzeczek and District 3 candidate Carol Fey. At-large Councilmember Peggy Cole is also a regular attendee of the group’s meetings, meaning if the three candidates won, four of Littleton’s seven councilmembers would be associated with the group.

The group was often called the Sunshine Boys in its early years, said Marty Bolt, one of the group’s handful of founders, who is today the group moderator. The name was an allusion to “sunshine” laws that govern transparency in government proceedings. Eventually the group dropped the “boys,” as it had grown to include many women.

Opposition positions

Sunshine is largely known for what its attendees have opposed. The group was founded in 2002 to oppose a grocery tax, said Bolt, who was once the chairman of the state House District 38 Republicans. Other original members were Libertarians and Democrats, and today the group claims attendees of a variety of political affiliations.

Since then, a search of Littleton Independent articles finds the group associated with opposition to:

• A new police station in 2004.

• A lifting of the TABOR revenue collection cap in 2006.

• A proposed Wal-Mart on the Ensor property on South Santa Fe Drive in 2007.

• Council’s use of executive sessions in 2013.

• Urban renewal efforts that kicked into high gear in 2014.

• City Manager Michael Penny, who was fired by council last year.

• The Grove, the apartment development currently underway at Littleton Boulevard and Bemis Street — opposition that is still making its way through the courts.

“What we do is collect the obvious facts and problems with ideas that are being pushed, and see the real negatives in what’s going on,” Bolt said. “Any time the government gets off on a high horse, the bad parts need to be discussed and exposed. But we have no set of objectives.”

Brzeczek, a local activist who served on the Littleton school board in the early 1990s, insists the group does not speak as a unified voice.

“Some people give Sunshine a whole lot more credit than it deserves,” said Brzeczek, a regular attendee since the days of the police station proposal. “It doesn’t work that way. We don’t tell councilmembers what to do.”

Brzeczek has been a torchbearer for a number of issues associated with Sunshine, such as the initiative that led to the near-total abolishment of closed-door executive session privileges for city council in 2013. Among the strictest executive session rules in the state, the measure meant that council actions normally conducted in private — such as personnel matters and discussions of real estate deals — are conducted in the open. Last year’s firing of Penny, including an airing of grievances against him, was conducted in open council.

Brzeczek is also a central figure in opposition to the city’s urban renewal efforts, creating Your Littleton Your Vote, a political action committee that championed Issue 300, which required urban renewal efforts to go before a popular vote — and passed by a wide margin.

Petitioners for Issue 300 misled people into thinking that swaths of the city would face condemnation and eminent domain, said Mayor Pro Tem Debbie Brinkman. Brzeczek said she can’t speak for what every petitioner told people, and that the city’s urban renewal proposals did include eminent domain mechanisms.

Why can’t we be friends?

On Sunshine, Brzeczek said anyone interested in how the city is run can attend the group’s free and open meetings, held every Friday at 8:30 a.m. in a nondescript strip mall storefront at 6520 S. Broadway, a few doors down from Solid Grounds Coffee House.

“You can sit and participate or sit and listen,” Brzeczek said.

Not everyone has felt so welcome. District 3 Councilmember Phil Cernanec said he used to attend meetings but stopped after Bolt told him to stop taking notes.

“I have ADD,” said Cernanec, who is seeking another term in the Nov. 7 election. “One of the ways to deal with that is to take lots of notes. Lots of people in the group take notes, but Marty singled me out and told me I couldn’t, so I quit going.”

Bolt said he didn’t like Cernanec’s level of participation.

“Phil wasn’t a participant, but he was still taking notes,” Bolt said. “When somebody’s taking that many notes, I want to know what they’re going to do with them.”

Bolt said he didn’t tell Cernanec to stop taking notes, but drew attention to it.

Fey, a regular Sunshine attendee who along with Steven Esses is challenging Cernanec for the District 3 seat, has made her opposition to Cernanec and his role in the approval of The Grove a central theme of her campaign, going on the attack at a recent candidate forum against what she characterized as his indifference to her concerns about an earlier proposed development in her neighborhood.

“I tried to talk to my District 3 representative about working with the city to oppose a building that was twice the size zoning would allow,” Fey said. “He told me ‘don’t even try — the developer always wins.’”

Fey has recounted the exchange in press releases, campaign events, emails and interviews, though she said she’s “determined not to make this a personal thing.”

Cernanec said the exchange never happened.

“I just wouldn’t say that to someone,” Cernanec said. “I’m a councilmember. I wouldn’t tell a citizen not to bother getting involved.”

Fey said her frustration with the city goes beyond Cernanec.

“There are several hundred city employees, and they aren’t necessarily friendly or helpful when you first call,” Fey said. “They become that over time, but they don’t like hearing from citizens because they think it means complaints and trouble. Not everyone, but a lot of them.”

Critics open up

Some councilmembers who have dealt with Sunshine activists don’t hold much love for the group.

“They have an agenda and they are pushing it hard,” Brinkman said in an email. “They don’t stop at stretching the truth, hiding the truth, and fictionalizing reality to make their point and to gain support.”

Brinkman said that Sunshine’s opposition to The Grove has falsely centered on the notion that citizens were shut out of the approval process, though the project was approved as use by right through the normal zoning process. The claim is currently being fought out in court.

Brinkman expressed concern at the thought of adding Sunshine members to council.

“There is an overall theme of anger and negativity that permeates from them,” Brinkman’s email said. “I would hope that their fevered pitch of anti-everything would be toned down so that there can be a healthier level of discussion and debate. Their continued trajectory backwards doesn’t serve the community and its future.”

District 1 councilman Bill Hopping said he sees hypocrisy in the group’s actions.

“This is the group that fought the historic designation of Main Street, which is Littleton’s heartbeat and a regionally and nationally recognized cultural icon,” Hopping said in an email. “Yet now they complain about the loss of downtown’s historic culture. They fought a building that would have been built at the Grove location and would have had much less impact than the Grove, then complain about the Grove.”

City Manager Mark Relph said the group enjoys no special influence in his office.

“The city manager has a responsibility to listen to all groups and favor none,” Relph said. “I see Sunshine as no different than many groups I have to reach out to periodically. I don’t make a value judgment about them — I just listen. My role isn’t to discuss their influence.”

A different perspective

Another slate of council candidates has emerged, drawing support from business interests seeking to counter Sunshine’s influence.

District 1 candidate Patrick Driscoll, and at-large candidates Karina Elrod and Kyle Schlachter — both of whom serve on the city’s urban renewal board with Brzeczek — have drawn endorsements from board members of the nascent Littleton Business Chamber. Elrod and Driscoll have also drawn sizable campaign contributions from the group, city documents show.

Driscoll acknowledged that he represents a different wing of the race.

“There’s a pro-business, pro-growth slate,” Driscoll said. “That’s reality.”

“Everything I know about the Sunshine group is skewed, because it’s the view of a few people — or a lot of people,” Driscoll said. “But I don’t really know them. Nobody’s reached out to me to have a conversation. I get what their agenda is, and that’s not looking for a lot of change. I’m hoping at some point I get to meet these guys and find out why they’re pushing back on moving Littleton forward.”

Elrod could not be reached for comment, but Schlachter was reserved on the matter of Sunshine.

“I wouldn’t call them a positive or negative influence,” Schlachter said. “They’re a voice. They work on a variety of topics. They could do more to bring in younger residents and new residents. I haven’t seen a lot of new faces. They invite a broad range of guest speakers, but the core seems to be static.”

Whether it wins more seats on council, regular attendee and councilmember Doug Clark said the group will continue to work to be a resource for concerned citizens, adding that the affiliations of council members ebb and flow.

We’ve had situations with four Sunshine folks on council in the past,” Clark said. “I don’t think the world came to an end.


Council candidates talk growth during forum

City council hopefuls debate development and the Littleton of the future

 Littleton’s nine city council candidates prepare for a candidate forum at Buck Recreation Center on Sept. 28.

DAVID GILBERT

Posted Monday, October 2, 2017 12:06 pm

ABOUT THE ELECTION

Nine candidates are running for four seats on Littleton’s city council.

Two at-large seats are up for grabs between four candidates. The candidate with the most votes will serve a four-year term, and the candidate with the second-most votes will serve a two-year term.

Doug Clark is defending his at-large seat, and his challengers are Kyle Schlachter, Karina Elrod and Carol Brzeczek.

The District 1 seat is open after Bill Hopping decided not to run for re-election. Patrick Driscoll and Kama Suddath are facing off for the seat.

Phil Cernanec is defending the District 3 seat against challengers Carol Fey and Steven Esses.

Ballots will be mailed out on Oct. 16, and Election Day is Nov. 7.

David Gilbert

Littleton’s nine city council candidates were in the same room for what may prove to be the only time, to participate in a candidate forum organized by community activists.

Candidates answered a handful of questions posed to them by a moderator, and found a fair amount of common ground, though differences emerged on key issues like the possibility of growth restrictions.

Littleton’s seven-person council has four seats up for grabs this fall: Districts 1 and 3 and two at-large seats.

The forum, held Sept. 28 at Buck Recreation Center, was organized by local community watchdog Pam Chadbourne, who said she felt compelled to assemble the event after finding out that no other full-scale candidate forums seemed likely to be held.

Chadbourne said the forum followed the League of Women Voters’ guidelines. Greg Breitbarth, Heritage High School’s speech and debate coach, moderated.

On issues like addressing traffic congestion and budget shortfalls, the candidates were largely in sync. Traffic will be best addressed through a comprehensive approach with surrounding cities and state agencies, went the conventional wisdom, and the budget should be addressed by taking a hard look at spending cuts and a creative approach to finding new revenue streams.

Growth and development, however, quickly emerged as the dominant topic, and candidates answered several questions related to how the city should handle the influx of population to the city and region, and how council should interact with developers.

All candidates agreed that citizen input should drive the growth process, and that the city ought to develop a well-rounded growth master plan. Differences emerged, though, over issues like the possibility of a growth cap.

Some cities have instituted growth caps to maintain their character, said Carol Brzeczek, an at-large candidate who has sponsored several citizen initiatives and is often associated with the Sunshine community watchdog group.

“We all moved here for the small-town character,” Brzeczek said. “We’ll lose it if we accommodate all that growth.

“You can be better without being bigger.”

Growth isn’t always necessary, said Doug Clark, an at-large incumbent seeking re-election who, over the years, has served four terms, two as mayor, and who is also a regular Sunshine meeting attendee.

“We need to decide how much more we want to grow,” Clark said. “There’s an idea that if you’re not growing, you’ll die. But there are three cities close to us — Columbine Valley, Cherry Hills Village and Bow Mar — that are healthy without growth.”

Change is going to happen, said at-large candidate Kyle Schlachter, who is a member of the LIFT board, which deals with urban renewal.

“But I wouldn’t say I’m pro growth,” Schlachter said. “I’d say we need to dictate and manage growth and change. Frankly, there’s so much divisiveness, fear and anger about the future, and I think we need to focus on what brings us together, what makes us proud, and talk about a holistic approach rather than individual buildings.”

 


Carol Fey to run for District 3 seat

Book publisher seeks to ensure fiscal restraint, thoughtful growth

Posted Monday, September 25, 2017 2:47 pm

David Gilbert

Longtime Littleton resident Carol Fey is running for the District 3 city council seat, going up against incumbent Phil Cernanec and challenger Steve Esses.

Fey said her primary issues are ensuring the city spends taxes wisely and follows zoning laws, and encouraging citizen participation in government.

“I will bring financial restraint to city council,” Fey said in a press release. “I retired 10 years early because I’m so careful about spending. With me on council, Littleton will have more benefits with no tax increases.”

Fey moved to Littleton in 1987 from Minneapolis. She said she became actively involved in community affairs in 2015, when she objected to a proposed building in her neighborhood. She said she was told it would be tough to fight, but “I organized 50 neighbors, we presented the violations to the Planning Board, and they voted in our favor,” Fey said.

Fey said she has worked with the city’s Economic Development Department to encourage good development, and worked to oppose The Grove, the controversial apartment development near Littleton’s courthouse.

Fey holds two master’s degrees, in industrial technology and English. She taught at the University of Minnesota, Bowling Green (Ohio) State University and Arapahoe Community College. She also worked for a total of seven months in Antarctica, and has visited every continent.

Fey is a graduate of the Littleton Citizens Police Academy and served on the Oakbrook Homeowners Board of Directors.

Fey runs Carol Fey & Associates, which publishes and sells instructional books for HVAC contractors, and develops classroom training and webinars.

Fey and partner Patrick Fitzgerald have been together 17 years. Fey’s two children graduated from Heritage High School and the University of Colorado.

 


Carol Keeping Her Eye Out for Seniors

Neighbors Elwood and Marilyn Johnsen recently celebrated their 67th anniversary together at home. But that almost didn’t happen. Recently they got two weeks’ notice of a hearing for Arapahoe County to take custody of Marilyn. Also the couple’s finances were to be seized by the county to pay for Marilyn to be confined to a memory care facility of the county’s choosing.

An elder protection law says the couple cannot know the charge or who charged them. Carol Fey and other friends found lawyers, and the couple prevailed.  Elwood and Marilyn still live together at home with the help of care givers.

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