Claims fly during Englewood recall election

A look at contentions around effort to remove District 3 member

Posted 8/27/18

Englewood doesn't spare any punches. That much has become clear in the lead-up to the Sept. 18 election to decide whether to remove Englewood City Councilmember Laurett Barrentine from office, an …

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Claims fly during Englewood recall election

A look at contentions around effort to remove District 3 member

Posted

Englewood doesn't spare any punches.

That much has become clear in the lead-up to the Sept. 18 election to decide whether to remove Englewood City Councilmember Laurett Barrentine from office, an effort initiated by four District 3 residents, including two former Englewood mayors.

Since then, accusations have piled up on the pro-recall camp's website and in events held by Barrentine in recent weeks to push back — in some cases turning the focus to the former mayors, Randy Penn, who served in the seat from 2011-15, and Jim Woodward, who held the position from 2007-11.

The election may be as much a test of Barrentine's support in District 3 as it is a political showcase for a vocal group of residents who say they're standing up for transparency in the city's government.

Voters in the district — roughly the southeast and middle parts of Englewood — began receiving mail ballots in late August.

Here's a look at some of the claims surrounding the recall.

'Constant obstruction'

When Woodward announced the recall effort at the April 16 city council meeting, he criticized what he called the “dysfunction and division” of the council and “meetings being hijacked” by Barrentine with “tirades intended to delay the business of council.”

Barrentine asks for “more information, more information — the same information again,” Woodward said Aug. 24. “That's her M.O.”

The grievances are vague, said Barrentine, who also responded to complaints that her requests for information from city staff cost too much money and staff time.

“That's what the staff is there for, doing the business of the city under the eye of the representation of the citizens,” Barrentine said in an earlier interview.

Barrentine has said Woodward and Penn don't want to “own up” to their records with the city.

“I'm willing to defend the kind of work I'm willing to do,” Barrentine said.

Woodward pushed back against the idea that the recall aims to cover anything up.

“There's nothing to be exposed on that hasn't been talked about in the (city council) minutes, the way I voted on anything,” Woodward said. “I have nothing to hide … I'll stand by my record.”

Audit of private entities

Barrentine believes a main reason for the recall is her desire for information on two private bodies: the Englewood Environmental Foundation and Englewood McLellan Reservoir Foundation — commonly known as “EEF” and “EMRF” — that oversee property that the city has varying degrees of control over.

“I believe I was being recalled because I insisted on this forensic audit,” Barrentine said. “Because people who had stewardship over this city didn't do a good job of” overseeing the bodies.

The city created EEF in the late 1990s to oversee redevelopment of the former Cinderella City mall into the CityCenter Englewood site, in the areas along Englewood Parkway west of South Santa Fe Drive, a city fact sheet said. Around that time, it also established EMRF to oversee property development, to “enhance and diversify” the city's revenues and to protect the water supply in and around McLellan Reservoir, another fact sheet said. The reservoir sits near C-470 and Santa Fe Drive.

Both entities are overseen by a board of directors made up of city administrative officials.

Earlier this year, Barrentine said, city council voted not to move forward with an examination called a performance audit — a look at whether the bodies are functioning well. Barrentine said she's advocated for a forensic audit, which can seek wrongdoing. A flier in support of Barrentine claims a report references problems — like improper payments and giving work to friends — with how EEF and EMRF were run.

A report by the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office in April 2017 looked into the allegations to determine if a criminal investigation would be warranted. Englewood's then-assistant city manager brought the matter to the DA's office's attention. Based on interviews with several city employees and administration, the DA's investigator wrote that the city should have discovered the possibility for misconduct related to the allegations “as early as 2012” and that the statute of limitations — the period when legal action could be taken — had run out for any alleged crimes.

“I had no evidence to support any wrongdoing or criminal activity,” the investigator, Brian Ahlberg, wrote.

The bodies are nonprofits and not bound by city government policies, the report said.

“It isn't illegal to waste the taxpayers' money,” Barrentine said. In general, the bodies are not funded through Englewood's general fund budget, but the city does pay to lease the Englewood Civic Center from EEF.

EEF, organized in 1997, was formed to “shield the city from potential environmental liability” from issues including asbestos and gasoline contamination coming from nearby property at the time, according to a city fact sheet. Barrentine argues EEF was set up to take on debt without voter approval and that there's “less than arm's length” between it and the city.

The liability concerns were valid legal reasons, Woodward argued.

“These (are) conspiracy theories of, 'Oh they're trying to bypass the voters,'” Woodward said.

Budget balance

The pro-recall website, englewoodrecall.com, said Barrentine “obstructed” past city budgets. Both the website and Barrentine referenced an October 2016 Englewood Herald story on the 2017 city budget, with Barrentine arguing the budget was not balanced, and the website claiming it was.

The story reported that spending outpaced revenues by roughly $6 million, with the caveat that reserves cover the difference, as Kathleen Rinkel, Englewood's director of finance and administrative services, explained.

An Englewood resolution dated March 21, 2016, said the city is legally required to balance its budget under the city's charter and state law and that the balancing takes into account the surplus of funds, or reserves, the city may have.

Barrentine argued that “if you're using your savings, it's not balanced.”

Flood money

A question at an Aug. 8 forum, where Barrentine discussed the recall effort, asked if the money for the recall election could have been better used toward dealing with costs surrounding the July 24 flood in Englewood that displaced several and took one woman's life.

The recall petition circulated among residents of District 3, which cleared the threshold for required signatures, was filed July 3, according to the city clerk. The city's charter requires the council to set the election date if a petition succeeds.

The roughly $13,000 estimated cost of the election, according to the clerk and City Manager Eric Keck, would come out of the city's general fund. Specific funds in the budget, like the stormwater utility fund, by law, cannot receive money from the general fund equal to more than 10 percent of the revenues brought in by the utility, Keck said. Roughly, that means the general fund could provide $45,000, which “would not cover much work at all,” Keck said.

'Recall the recallers'

Chris Duis, a resident who spoke at the Aug. 20 city council meeting, raised again the suggestion the city should have a forensic audit performed on EEF and EMRF and claimed “millions of dollars of Englewood taxpayers' money are not accounted for.”

“We will be recalling the recallers,” Duis said, garnering applause from several in the audience at the end of his comments.

A website, recallenglewood.com, lists an effort to recall Councilmembers Rita Russell, Cheryl Wink, Dave Cuesta, Amy Martinez and Mayor Linda Olson.

People in Englewood are angry, Duis said.

As of Aug. 27, the city clerk's office had not received anything in regard to recalling those councilmembers.

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