Fighting Fire With Fire

Does Alvertis Simmons need to be so angry? He thinks so.

Simmons complains about his poor treatment by the press, yet he seems to thrive on the publicity. "I know you need to print controversy," he says. "I just say, 'Print what you want.'"

His most recent notoriety involved his use of a city-issued cellular phone. Between January 1995 and May 1996, Simmons ran up a bill of about $7,600, more than $1,000 of which was piled up while he was on leave from the city for two months early this year, coordinating the local Million Man March rally. "No, I shouldn't have used the cellular phone in the two months I wasn't working, but I paid that off," he says, dismissing the affair with a look of irritation. "There was no intent to fraud or do anything wrong."

Even some city officials share his annoyance. Asked to comment on Simmons, Councilman Hiawatha Davis, whose district includes several of Simmons's neighborhoods, praises his work at 33rd and Fillmore and says, "Is this another 'Kick Alvertis's Butt' story? He has a determination and idealism that he can help a lot of people solve these problems, and he doesn't mind rolling up his sleeves and working to do it. I would like to see more people help him carry the load."

But Davis says Simmons has become a "victim of his own enthusiasm for trying to right a lot of wrongs. He's made some mistakes, like predicting the Million Man March was gonna fill up Mile High Stadium with 70,000 people." Or, the councilman adds, like Simmons's misuse of his cell phone.

Larry Borom, former head of community relations for Denver Health and Hospitals, says of the cell-phone incident, "This is one of the problems the city has had in terms of not having good management. He's an example of having overdone it more than others, but I would guess there are others who have abused that privilege."

Simmons agrees, but he's not about to name names. "The DA's office was asked to investigate me, and they didn't turn up anything, but nobody's written about that," Simmons says. "Print that."

The DA's Economic Crime Unit did investigate Simmons's cell-phone use for a few weeks, but "ran into a wall right at the start," says Chief Deputy DA Phil Parrott. "We had insufficient evidence to prove a criminal violation beyond a reasonable doubt." The city records were at the time not itemized, Parrott says, and there wasn't a clear policy on cell-phone use.

Simmons was required by the city to pay $4,000--one half of his total bill. Shortly after the story broke, Rocky Mountain News columnist Robert Jackson wrote that several people--he won't say who--had asked him how they could contribute money to pay off Simmons's bill. Jackson says he called the mayor's office to find out where checks could be sent.

The mayor's office told him to send checks to the Manager of the Department of Revenue, and Jackson wrote that in his column. "All we did was say, 'Here's what you would do if people wanted to do it,' because that's where Alvertis is sending his check, too," says Andrew Hudson, the mayor's spokesman. The solicitation was news to Cheryl Coen, manager of the revenue department, who says, "I read it in the News and thought it was satire."

So far, it essentially is, because no one has anted up for Alvertis--except Simmons himself, who had paid off $938.08 of his bill as of late last week, Coen says. He has until next May to pay the city back the full $4,000. After that, though, Hudson says Simmons "will never get the phone back again."

That's one more restriction that presumably will be erased when he goes solo.

"Maybe I'm before my time," he muses. "Malcolm was before his time. Maybe they'll just look back in twenty years and say, 'Alvertis had it right.' Maybe they'll name a block after me--but I'm not interested in that. I'll be buried under it, and they'll go right over me."

Maybe Alvertis Simmons Drive?
He nods. "They'll drive right over me.

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