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Sowing Discontent

The anti-crime Weed and Seed program is leaving behind a lot of scorn and thorns in Denver neighborhoods.

Guerra smarts from accusations of incompetence hurled his way. "When I took over, nothing was in place," he contends. "I built the procurement and the administrative process." He says he also set up a "fiscal agent" to keep track of the money.

His replacement, Gwen Koehler, has faced the same allegations of incompetence, especially in light of the clashes in Baker-La Alma. "It's awfully convenient to point a finger at one person or one institution," Koehler says, with a mixture of exhaustion and resentment, adding that her position is the one that is always "scapegoated." "I have no qualms saying I'm in this chair because I did the work. I earned it."

But the backbiting at Weed and Seed extends far beyond the project directors. Down in the neighborhoods, numerous feuds have broken out.

In Baker, particularly, residents have feuded with coordinator Fancy Frandsen from the start of her tenure, even though the neighbors themselves selected her for the job. Friction increased in the summer of 1995, when Frandsen initiated her "perform and reward" program in which children earned vouchers that could be applied to buying school clothes and supplies in exchange for doing good deeds around the neighborhood, like picking up trash or walking elderly residents around. Some of the kids made hundreds of dollars, and parents of kids who didn't participate complained that instead of the kids buying school supplies, Fancy took them to Kmart, where they blew the money on junk.

Frandsen says the moms were there with her at Kmart, and she insists the program of thirteen kids was not exclusionary. "All these people who didn't want to work because they didn't know money was involved came out of the woodwork once they found out," she says.

Then there was the time that Frandsen, who is Anglo, referred to some of the children in the neighborhood as "my little Mexicans," which many found inappropriate.

"What's so offensive about that?" says one of Frandsen's Latino defenders, Patrick Vigil. "They are little Mexican kids, and Fancy loves them."

Frandsen adds, "They were upset about my using the word 'Mexicans.' The next group that heard the story was mad because I used the word 'my.'"

More contentious was the Van Incident. Neighborhood leaders claim that Frandsen had planned to buy a van for herself with federal grant money. Frandsen says she was asked by some of the neighbors to buy a van, since she walked from Capitol Hill to Baker to work in the neighborhood.

"As treasurer, problems for me really arose when, a couple months ago, she wanted us to vote on her buying a van," says Baker treasurer Emily Lucero. "That really shook me up. I don't want to get mixed up in something like that. It's not only illegal but unethical to do that. She wanted to purchase the van, plus six months' insurance, plus AAA membership, and she'd pay $345 back a month to the storefront."

Frandsen says she found a deal for a used van that cost around $2,000, and she had planned to reimburse Baker-La Alma's Weed and Seed office in monthly increments. She dismisses complaints about the van as "personal" attacks. "It's amazing what a couple of squeaky wheels can do," Frandsen says. "They're very scary people."

Koehler fumes at the mention of the van, which some irate Baker residents say she was prepared to buy for Frandsen. Koehler denies it. "That was a one-day, one-time discussion," she says. "Why is it put out there still? It feeds some agenda."

Weed and Seed is still functioning in the Baker-La Alma neighborhood, but Frandsen is in limbo, as are her duties of coordinating the various services and operating the "perform and reward" program for kids. She blames jealousy for the situation.

"The bottom line is, I'm making $30,000 a year," Frandsen says. "In a seventy-block area, no one makes that much money. Plus, I'm having fun. I don't think that sets well with people."

But that's just her opinion. "All the neighborhood people I know say that they don't want her," Lucero says. "If we got a petition, 50 percent wouldn't know who she was or what Weed and Seed was, and 45 percent would ask that she not return."

Other neighborhoods also are jousting with their coordinators. In Highland, which began receiving funds in April 1995, controversy has arisen about whether coordinator Paul Roybal was forced on the area by the city because he's the brother-in-law of Manager of Safety Butch Montoya.

Kim Womantree admits there were problems, "primarily in regard to our resource coordinator," but she says, "We went through conflict resolution, and we are getting our work done. We're starting to have a broader base in the neighborhood."

Roybal, who also is a co-chairman of the neighborhood's NPT, says his relationship with Montoya had nothing to do with his getting the job. "I'm a qualified person," he says, "and I have a reputation that I do good work and I'm a good employee."

Highland treasurer Combs strongly disputes that. "Roybal has managed to just sit there--and that's when he shows up, which is not often," says Combs, who adds that a December review that led to Roybal keeping his job was a "joke," in her eyes. "Personally, I gave him a written review that I did not make public, 'cause he was horrible in every aspect of his job."

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