Englewood city manager announces resignation amid council turmoil

Eric Keck, after four years, steps down at turbulent meeting

Posted 9/5/18

In an Englewood City Council meeting where the audience entered through metal detectors — and one councilmember did not attend due to threats — Englewood's city manager announced his resignation …

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Englewood city manager announces resignation amid council turmoil

Eric Keck, after four years, steps down at turbulent meeting

Posted
In an Englewood City Council meeting where the audience entered through metal detectors — and one councilmember did not attend due to threats — Englewood's city manager announced his resignation amid what he called a divisive few months for the city.
 
“My prayer for the City of Englewood as I exit this organization, and potentially exit the community, is that there is healing,” Eric Keck said during the Sept. 4 council meeting.
 
Events in recent months “clearly have had an adverse impact on a number of people, their health (and) their relationships with their neighbors, and I just really hope that that will clear up.”
 
Keck, who began his position as city manager in September 2014, was offered a job in the private sector in a different state and said the decision to leave was influenced by his family.
 
As of September 2017, Keck's yearly salary as city manager was $169,950, according to city data. The city manager is Englewood's top non-elected administrative official, who implements policy decisions made by the council.
 
Keck will step down amid a turbulent time for Englewood's government. Here is a look at some examples of recent contention and the city's next steps.
 
Rocky recall
 
An effort to recall Councilmember Laurett Barrentine from office has served as a backdrop to other conflict in the city.
 
An incident in which Barrentine reportedly yelled at Councilmember Cheryl Wink and followed her into a lobby from the council meeting chambers on May 7 stemmed from Wink mentioning “concerns from citizens in the community” about Barrentine, according to an Englewood Police Department report provided to the Englewood Herald.
 
At an Aug. 8 forum that discussed the recall, Barrentine said a person in favor of the recall had been telling people a councilmember “had called the police on (her).” Barrentine said a “plethora of lies” was being told about her and later said she didn't remember the May incident.
 
The group that pushed for the recall included former Mayors Jim Woodward and Randy Penn and two other residents of District 3. Clearing the threshold by about 60 required signatures, the petition garnered 424 verified names, according to the city clerk. Election Day is Sept. 18, when mail ballots must be received by the city.
 
Frustration after flood
 
Residents have vented frustration for weeks at council meetings in the wake of the July 24 flood that took a woman's life and displaced several other people.
 
At Barrentine's Aug. 8 forum, one question asked if money to pay for the Sept. 18 recall election would be better spent on flood-related efforts, but the council is bound by its charter to move forward with the election once a valid petition is submitted, which occurred July 3.
 
The city has acknowledged it was ill-prepared to withstand the flood, with Keck noting its need for a new emergency-operations plan and lack of an emergency manager. The city's storm-drain system was built in the 1950s to 1970s, and Englewood also lacks a communications system for disasters — a gap that caused a slow response for recovery efforts, Keck has said.
 
Residents claim wrongdoing
 
At the Sept. 4 council meeting, resident JJ Margiotta served subpoenas to each councilmember to appear in court as witnesses to what he alleges is improper serving of paperwork. The case is related to alleged nonpayment of sales tax and zoning regarding his business, he said.
 
He said the council would receive two more subpoenas related to the city's sales-tax enforcement and “you guys (knowing) that the city has broken the law,” he argued. Margiotta, owner of the motorcycle parts and repair shop Knuckleheads on South Broadway, has appeared before council several times in the past few months.
 
The city claims Margiotta has failed to file sales- and use-tax returns and that motorcycle sales take place at Knuckleheads although Margiotta did not notify the city or provide a state-issued dealer's certificate, according to a letter the city sent him.
 
Some residents also complained at the Aug. 20 meeting about the city's financial management, including a call by resident Chris Duis to recall other councilmembers in reaction to the effort to recall Barrentine, who has pushed to audit city-related entities she says have been run improperly.
 
A report by the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office in April 2017 looked into the allegations and determined a criminal investigation is not warranted — and that the city should have discovered the possibility for misconduct related to the allegations “as early as 2012” — but Barrentine still advocates for a forensic audit, which can seek wrongdoing.
 
Leaving in troubling time
 
At the top of the Sept. 4 meeting, Mayor Linda Olson read a statement from Wink, who did not attend out of concern for her well-being.
 
“I was apprised of threats to city councilmembers which originated from a small group of angry individuals who are planning to create an uprising of anger during tonight's council meeting,” Olson read for Wink.
 
During Keck's long address to council, he acknowledged a divisive last few months in Englewood. Discussing his resignation, he recounted the council asking him how long he would stay, when he was interviewed for the position.
 
“I will stay as long as I'm needed, that my leadership is functional and engaging and is improving (the city),” Keck said.
 
He went on to lament the recent division in the city and said the city staff is not out for “self-aggrandizement; they're not here for the paycheck.”
 
“I would hope that this council and the community would continue to respect the employees,” Keck said.
 
The decision to step down was not influenced by criticism the city has received during the flood or by contention surrounding the recall, Keck said in a later interview.
 
Over his tenure, Keck showed his stripes as a manager willing to push ideas that at times went against the grain with some residents and councilmembers. He supported transitioning the city's fire services from the Englewood Fire Department to Denver Fire Department in 2015, for example, a decision he defends as effective in saving the city money.
 
When he announced his resignation, he held true to that disposition, saying he enjoys Englewood's "small-town values" but that the council needs to address problems like investing in infrastructure.
 
"While this may be a smaller community in a larger metropolitan area, you're a big city. You have complex issues," Keck said, adding, "We need to act like a big city — not do things on the cheap."
 
Looking forward
 
He added it's an “honor and a privilege” to have served as city manager. He'll hold the position until Oct. 5.
 
Olson, the mayor, said in her statement that Keck had the problem-solving skills the city needed in the post-recession era.
 
"Keck's energetic leadership infused the city with new vision," Olson said. "His people skills with city staff, residents, businesses and other metropolitan leaders has been more than admirable."
 
Council is responsible for the selection process for a new manager and was to discuss that process, and the process for retaining an interim city manager, at a special council meeting Sept. 10. The city is also without an assistant city manager after Mark Woulf left at the end of June. Because of the arrival of new administrative staff members, the recruitment process for that position was put on hold, and Keck appointed Dorothy Hargrove, the director of parks, recreation and library, as interim assistant city manager.
 
Keck thanked the community and city staff and wished Englewood "all the best going forward."
 
“Council, thank you,” Keck said. “I look forward to working with you over the next month and hope to continue to keep us on a positive trajectory.”

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