Dollars and Nonsense

For sale: one silly sign ordinance.

She told him what he now knew: that you cannot solicit a vehicle for sale on city property -- unless it happens to be parked in front of your primary residence, a loophole that did the Littleton resident no good. Never mind that the ordinance was intended to keep busy city thoroughfares and parks from serving as used-car lots, not to discourage law-abiding suburbanites from ever returning to a city that uses obscure ordinances as a way for meter readers to meet their ticket quotas. Barnhart could have fought the ticket, taken it to a grown-up courtroom -- hell, taken it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court -- but instead he accepted the $5 discount the referee offered on the $20 ticket, paid his $15 debt to society, and that was that.


"I thought there would be limitations to the law," Barnhart says. "This reinforces what John Hickenlooper was saying about Denver being hostile to business in general.... If the city would stop beating up on businesses, it would have significant improvement."

Barnhart is an independent businessman who designs databases for small companies (he just finished creating a circulation system for a suburban newspaper). In his spare time, he likes to think about things: He wrote a book, A Farm Boy's Testament to the United Nations, as a hobby, encapsulating what he had learned about economics and ethics over the years. "I run my whole life with a database," he adds.

That database includes information that "calculates my cost of ownership per month," he says. And when his Buick LaSabre -- "quite the maintenance hog" -- died recently, he started driving the 1986 Ford, which he'd tricked out like a motor home, around town until he located a replacement for his primary vehicle. The 1987 Toyota van he found looked so promising on his database that he decided to sell the Ford, "which has stuff I've concluded that I really don't need," he says, "and I'd prefer someone who likes this stuff have it." So that's why the "For Sale" sign was in the van's window when he parked at that meter at 15th and Lawrence.

The $20 ticket didn't fit into his fleet-maintenance database. Neither did his trip downtown to fight it. "No, that was recreation," he says.

Or maybe it was opportunity knocking -- for both Barnhart and a city badly in need of a budget fix. Maybe not as badly in need as New York, where the police union is so humiliated by the penny ante tickets being issued that it's started a "Don't Blame the Cop" campaign. Maybe not so badly needed that Denver's new mayor can't consider a parking-meter rollback. But in need nonetheless.

"So I'm thinking about getting a contract like the photo-radar company," Barnhart says. He'd outfit a van with a camera, just like the private vans that capture speeders on film for the city, and keep a close watch out for any cars with "For Sale" signs in their windows that dare to venture out onto the mean streets of Denver. "It would be fun to do a proposal for enforcement of ordinance 54-463 at a 50 percent cut," he adds. "The city would make money, and we'd give our 50 percent to a charity, or several charities." And everyone cited for driving around town with an illegal sign would get invited to a party that Barnhart would throw.

Call it the "Nonsense of Government Party," after the come-from-behind candidate for mayor of Denver won the city's top slot with a campaign that poked fun at Denver's parking policies and promised to cut the nonsensical red tape of government.

"Know the etymology of 'politics'?" Barnhart asks.

"Poly is many, and ticks are bloodsuckers."

Leaf Us Alone

Some days you can't see the forest for the trees.

John Frew looked over at the Auraria Parkway a few days ago and couldn't believe what he was seeing: a big "up yours." The city was planting Washington hawthorns right where it had removed 32 trees last Labor Day weekend, when the foliage interfered with the sightlines of some of the priciest seats at the Grand Prix.

Frew, who heads the Grand Prix, had been worried about those trees for weeks, and race officials had discussed them repeatedly with the city's parks department, asking for a little pruning here, some transplanting there. But it took complaints from the big-ticket holders -- complaints heard right at the mayor's office -- to chop through a thicket of city bureaucracy at the very last second, when there was no time left for halfway measures.

The trees came down, even as weak excuses were offered up. Half of the trees were dead anyway, the city said, and others were suffering from stress. And how had the workers who'd been prettying up Denver for a month in anticipation of a big meeting-planners' convention that month failed to notice sixteen dead trees? "They don't go out and take their pulse every day," responded then-mayoral spokesman Andrew Hudson.

Once city and race officials took the pulse of the city's populace, though, damage control was quick. The Grand Prix promised to replace the trees at a three-to-one ratio, more than enough to repopulate Auraria Parkway and provide trees for other spots, too. The money was put in escrow last September, in anticipation of a spring assessment of the city's drought situation.

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