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Coffee Plot

City workers have had some difficulties adjusting to life in the sumptuous, $132 million Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building. Along with the shiny new cubicles came a matched set of shiny new rules: no plants, no pictures (unless they're hung in an appropriate manner by building management), no access after 6 p.m. (that dictate has been removed), no visiting vendors (that one hasn't).

So while the Milagro Burrito Company still delivers to the City and County Building every day, breakfast-burrito addicts assigned to the Webb Mahal must head out to the sidewalk to get a fix. Milagro was told that the cafeteria going into the building has an exclusive deal. Says one burrito slinger: "It seems like the city wants a bite out of everything." That would include the snack business ruled in this town by Mountain Man, a success story out of Parker that peddles its wares at offices across the metro area -- but not in the Wellington E. Webb building. The Mountain Man distributor whose route includes that address (201 West Colfax Avenue) now must display her candy, nuts, dried fruit and gifts in the parking lot.

But the coffee is what got people really steaming.

Last month, City Auditor Don Mares, whose independent agency moved into Webbville this fall, received a letter from Wayne Cauthen, Mayor Webb's chief of staff: "Prior to opening the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building, the City established a user's group that developed occupancy policies for the new building. One of those adopted policies prohibits coffeepots in the building. This is a departure from years of practice in other City buildings. To ease the transition and to ensure that employees would continue to have coffee, the City negotiated with Baroness Coffee, the vendor selected to operate a retail coffee shop on the first floor, to also provide coffee service throughout the building. Every effort was made to price the coffee at the lowest amount necessary to cover the vendor's expenses while providing them with a reasonable profit. Baroness, a small, minority-owned business, incurred substantial debt to purchase vending machines for this building." All aboard the crony express!

The problem? "We have been advised that another firm has placed coffee vending machines in the areas occupied by the Auditor's Office," Cauthen noted sternly.

Well, not exactly. Mares has been providing coffee -- free coffee -- for his staff since 1996, contracting with a coffee service that moved with the auditor's office to its new home on the seventh floor. "Ours is not a vending machine," explains spokeswoman Cher Roybal Haavind. "There's no money taken in." There's just lots of coffee pouring out of thermoses, which the service provides.

"Don thinks it's an added value to employees here," she adds. "It's a benefit. And it's the little things that add up big."

So Chip Spreyer, deputy auditor, poured it on in his November 21 response to Cauthen. "Because of your letter, we have read through the [Baroness] contract thoroughly looking for any inconsistencies that you may have perceived," he wrote. "We cannot find them. Would you be so kind as to provide us with a citation to the clause or section that we may have inadvertently transgressed?"

Spreyer is still waiting for Cauthen to clue him in.

In the meantime, he checked with Dean Speirs, the city attorney who drafted the agreement, and learned that the Baroness contract contains no exclusivity clause. In fact, its language is quite broad: "The concessionaire acknowledges the city fully retains the right to provide facilities and services for making available to its employees and to the general public food products, coffee and other beverages and other goods and services, whether such facilities and services are provided directly by the city itself or through its separate contractors, licenses or other providers."

So for now, the coffee's on at Mares's place.

Now, about that breakfast burrito...

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