The Glendale T&A Party

Two years ago they took over their city. Since then, things have just gotten curiouser and curiouser.

Veggo Larsen, the city manager of Glendale, keeps one pressed suit, one clean golf shirt and a set of clubs packed in the backseat of his Chevy Blazer. After all, at the end of any city council meeting, held on the first and third Tuesday evenings of each month, Larsen could find himself unemployed. But for the 48-year-old bachelor, the thought of speeding off into the night is not so horrible. He imagines the moment when his car reaches the interstate. "I could just go in either direction," he says.

Larsen was living in Manhattan in the summer of 1998 when he received a phone call from an old drinking buddy back in Denver. Attorney Chuck Bonniwell cut to the quick: "Veggo, why don't you come out here and run Glendale?"

It was a lot for Bonniwell to offer. He didn't even work for the City of Glendale. He did, however, run the newly created Glendale Tea Party, a political group whose members now constituted a majority on the six-member Glendale City Council.

Sworn duty: City Manager Veggo Larsen is ready to leave town at any minute.
Sworn duty: City Manager Veggo Larsen is ready to leave town at any minute.
The Raptors: Chuck Bonniwell, Debbie Matthews and Mike Dunafon at Matthews's  and Dunafon's townhouse  --  aka headquarters of the Glendale Tea Party.
James Bludworth
The Raptors: Chuck Bonniwell, Debbie Matthews and Mike Dunafon at Matthews's and Dunafon's townhouse -- aka headquarters of the Glendale Tea Party.

Still, Larsen laughed at the thought of working for the public. He was doing just fine managing the real estate assets of heavy-hitters with multimillion-dollar portfolios. Larsen made just over $100,000 a year and enjoyed getting lost in his world of numbers and formulas and maintaining a life of anonymity. And what was Glendale, anyway? A town the size of a sandbox (just ten blocks wide, from Colorado Boulevard to South Fairfax, and eight blocks deep, from East Alameda Avenue to Mississippi) that sat like an island inside the southeast corner of Denver, filled with a few apartments and strip clubs.

But Larsen thought he would amuse himself, so he grabbed his golf clubs and hopped the next flight to Denver. When he got to town, Bonniwell took him to Coors Field, where he met Mike Dunafon, co-founder of the Glendale Tea Party, and Mark Smiley, a Glendale councilman who was also a member of the Tea Party. When Bonniwell couldn't score the best tickets in the house, the group headed to a LoDo rooftop patio and spent the afternoon eating and drinking beer in the sun while the sounds of the nearby Rockies game slid into their conversation. They spoke nothing of Glendale.

The next night, Bonniwell and Dunafon took Larsen to meet Jay Balano, another councilman and Tea Party member, this time at Rodney's, one of their favorite watering holes in nearby Cherry Creek. The group of men spent the night swilling liquor and shooting malespeak: sports, vacations, women. Larsen remembers that "pound for pound, Balano was world-class when it comes to drinkin'. He might be small, but he can tip 'em back."

The next morning, Larsen met Dunafon and Kay Parker, yet another new councilmember who was part of the Tea Party, for breakfast at the Riviera, a Mexican restaurant on East Kentucky Avenue. Again, the meeting went well.

At first Larsen considered the weekend a good time spent in a small town. But as he thought about it, he realized he was tiring of the Big Apple lifestyle. He'd lived in Denver for a few years in the mid-'90s and still had a nucleus of friends here. And becoming the city manager of Glendale did seem like an interesting challenge. Larsen knew there were 130 applications from people across the country who wanted the job, the majority of them with several years' worth of civic experience. Larsen had none.

The deck was crudely stacked in Larsen's favor, though. Dunafon, who had no official position with the city, had ordered the Tea Party's members on city council to award him the task of chairing the search for a city manager, and they'd complied. At the reception for the six finalists, Larsen recalls, the fix was so apparent to the candidates visiting from other cities that he almost felt sorry for them. "When Chuck's girlfriend shows up and gives me a big hug, they knew. Oh, they knew," he remembers. "They knew there was a rat in the woodpile -- they just didn't know which one."

Yet shortly after Larsen's hiring in October 1998, the strings that tied him to the Tea Party began unraveling.

"I take my job very seriously," Larsen says. "They should have asked me a few more questions before they hired me."

Had Tea Party founders Bonniwell and Dunafon asked Larsen more questions, they would have realized that their elaborate plans -- which, according to Larsen, included a surreptitious land grab, an ice rink along Cherry Creek and a midnight flight to the Channel Islands -- were simply not his cup of tea.

In the 1930s and '40s, as small communities began to spring up around the periphery of Denver, the big city tried to reel them in. Glendale, a former dairy farm, was able to ward off annexation attempts because it had a few dance clubs and bars that provided a small economic base. Soon liquor licenses, which were approved by the Arapahoe County commissioners, began proliferating along what is now Colorado Boulevard. In January 1952, business owners circulated petitions to incorporate Glendale as its own town. The petition was approved that March, and Glendale, all 355 acres of it, was left to its own devices. For its part, Denver continued to annex small towns until Glendale was surrounded.

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