High-Maintenance Man

Welton Street property owners have spent thousands to keep their district clean. So what do they have to show for it?

But every year the city kept overlooking the merchants of Welton Street.
The Welton Street Maintenance District was formed in 1985, largely because the city's planning office and the Mayor's Office of Economic Development "wanted to improve the disposition and appearance of the Five Points area," remembers Norman Harris, who runs Wise and Harris Liquors on Welton.

The district was limited to the 2600 and 2700 blocks of Welton because, Harris says, "at that time, that was the most blighted situation on the Points." Besides, he adds, "some of the other landlords felt like they couldn't afford it."

McKinley Harris (no relation to Norman Harris) was an early member of the maintenance-district board. A longtime Five Points property owner and one of the community's acknowledged leaders, he has his hand in eight properties in the two-block district, both through his own business and through the nonprofit Thomas W. Bean Foundation, of which he is a boardmember. The annual district assessments on his private holdings are $770.76; the Bean Foundation, which owns the Casino Cabaret, has assessments totaling $4,758.06.

Other prominent property owners are Deep Rock Water and Charlie Cousins, who owns Kapre's Fried Chicken, the D&D Lounge and a store owned by Al Richardson, another longtime maintenance-district boardmember. "We've been paying dearly for it," Cousins says of the district. "I'm getting tired of paying." This year his assessments totaled $1,147.

Over the years, the Welton Street district assessments have been rising--lately, to compensate for shortfalls. From 1986 through 1990 the total yearly assessment was $10,300; from 1991 to 1996 it rose to $11,800 annually; last year it was raised to $15,814--with no input from the neighborhood.

"What was happening with the district running out of funds before the end of the year was the city having to bail them out for the last couple of months," Montoya says. The city would reimburse itself from the following year's assessment, which reduced the amount of money the district had for future maintenance and increased the likelihood that the district would run out of money again. "The city decided we didn't want to do that anymore," Montoya explains.

"When it was first set up, it was set up correctly," says Norman Harris. "But as time goes on, a lot of guys didn't have time to be on the board, to do the job correctly."

In the meantime, the money kept flowing to Parker, who's had the district-maintenance contract since 1989. Last year he earned $13,510 of the $14,453.50 the district collected. He also co-signed on his own paychecks totaling $9,720.

Parker is the former head of the Five Points Business Association, the organization that essentially controls the goings-on along Welton Street. He says his background in construction work and overseeing a crew of janitors qualifies him for the maintenance contract.

And he says he's doing a good job, starting work every morning at 4 a.m. "Everything I've been asked to do, I did it," he says. "When they had the street festival, I come down and took the trash out. That's not even part of my job."

Parker says he keeps getting the contract because he's the only person who's ever submitted a bid. But according to Norman Harris, the job was never really put out for bid. "They left it up to the board to pick someone," he says. And the board, he adds, was basically McKinley Harris, a friend of Parker's. (Vern Harris says his father, McKinley, is ill and unavailable for comment.)

Norman Harris describes Parker as a "strong, independent" type who knows which side his bread is buttered on. "He knows the merchants don't pay his salary," says Harris. "He's supposed to sweep, but some days he doesn't feel like it. He sees a dead rat for five days, he ignores it. His attitude is poor."

Except when he's around a property owner who pays his salary, that is. "If one of the boardmembers responds, he does it," adds Harris.

"You don't always have time to be aware," says Tommie Dotson, director of the Five Points Business Recovery and Development Association. "You have to work your business. The merchants are not the ones paying for it. When merchants come to work and the snow is removed, it's like, 'One less job I have to do.' Property owners never had a problem with it."

But along Welton Street, many merchants didn't even know there was a maintenance district, let alone whom they could complain to if maintenance was poor. And even though Public Works recognized that the Welton Street district kept running out of money, it didn't step in to check out the problem.

"The city should have maybe insisted on some things when they started to run out of money, but we didn't," Montoya says. "The problem we were aware of, but nobody was complaining. They had boardmembers appointed and no board meetings. One person was running it."

"It wasn't the city's fault," Crayton Jones says. "It was McKinley Harris's fault. He was supposed to call the meeting and notify Montoya to come to the meeting, and if Montoya couldn't come, he was supposed to send a representative."

But there were no meetings.
It wasn't until December 1996 that Denver City Councilman Hiawatha Davis started hearing grumbling from Welton Street merchants; in response, he helped get Jones appointed to the maintenance-district board.

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