Off Limits

Drive, he said: Yes, that was Ben Klein, the only RTD boardmember who's been officially certified sane, schmoozing two weeks ago with Transportation Secretary Federico Pena at a White House ceremony marking the feds' agreement to fund an extension of Denver's light-rail system.

Klein, the current RTD chairman, knew Pena during his non-fed days, and together they wowed the crowd with a tale of how, when Klein used to cross 14th Avenue in the middle of the block, then-mayor Pena was somehow always driving along in a city car--and would ask Klein if he was trying to get run over to collect insurance money from Denver. (Instead, Klein, a former legislator, got a job as an Edgewater judge--after he secured a release noting that his mental health was much improved from the days when he pleaded psychological impairment to cut a deal on charges of tax evasion and taking money from legal clients.)

The story "wasn't a 'Crazy Ben' statement," Klein says. "It had been a standing joke for years. It got quite a laugh." It also showed those RTD boardmembers who "had doubts I knew Pena," Klein adds.

But back home, plenty of people might have encouraged Pena to step on the gas.

The line could start with RTD boardmembers Dave Bishop and Dan Gallegos. Klein is trying to get a restraining order against the pair to ban them from RTD-board executive sessions where the topic of discussion is a lawsuit alleging that the agency has violated Amendment 1--a lawsuit filed by Bishop, Gallegos and former boardmember Jack McCroskey.

"In this kind of a lawsuit, which really is a question of public policy, there's no basis for them to be kept out of a board meeting," argues Kevin Pratt, attorney for the two boardmembers. "They have no more personal interest in the outcome of this lawsuit than any other boardmember, or any person who lives within the boundaries of RTD."

Klein, who championed the open-records act when he was a state legislator, disagrees. "It's very painful for me to get involved legally with two boardmembers," he says, "but discussion of the lawsuit could not be held in front of these two people, because they are on the other side."

That motion is set for a hearing next week.
In the meantime, McCroskey has his own arguments with RTD--specifically, the security measures imposed outside a study session last Thursday evening. As McCroskey entered the RTD building, a rent-a-cop asked him to sign in and identify himself. McCroskey, a former board chairman (he was instrumental in making the board slots elected rather than appointed positions), refused, noting that it was a public meeting. As he walked past the guard, McCroskey says, the man "made a motion to go for a gun." McCroskey continued on unscathed, although a few eardrums weren't after he expressed his displeasure quite loudly at the meeting. (Klein, who says he checked with the guard, insists there was no gun.)

"I have a strong belief that the government really cannot operate unless it's open and the public has some access to what's happening," McCroskey says. "RTD continues to believe that it doesn't have to be open to the public. It continues to believe that it's a private organization." The meeting that night concerned a study of RTD's botched and extremely costly privatization attempts. "As a former boardmember and former chairman of the board, I am very aware of how tempting it is to cover stuff up," McCroskey adds. "But it is wrong, and it doesn't work, and in the long run, it doesn't help the public.

"They ought to tell you what they're going to do to you before they do it."
Step on it.

 
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