James Colden's face peered from a dozen "Wanted" fliers hung throughout the City of Arvada's administrative offices. Contact police if he shows up, the fliers warned, because Colden is potentially violent.
But Colden's only "crime" is in getting a divorce. And Colden--who has filed a notice of intent to sue the city over distribution of the fliers--has linked his poster-boy status to politics: His estranged wife is the city's finance director, and her reputed boyfriend was Arvada's city attorney.
In his claim, filed with Arvada in October, Colden charges that the city's actions amounted to defamation of character, libel, outrageous conduct, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy. He has asked for $150,000 in damages, which is the upper limit of claims allowed against a Colorado municipality. The city is unlikely to pay his claim, so the matter may wind up in court.
Ironically, Colden's claim was routed to City Attorney Steve Klausing, a principal actor in the Peyton Place-type drama now being played out.
Soap operas are nothing new at Arvada City Hall. But usually they feature fighting, not loving. One of the most memorable skirmishes occurred a couple of years back when some councilmembers hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on combative colleague Joanne Conte. When her political enemies learned that Councilwoman Conte was a transsexual, they attempted to "out" her. But the coup failed, and Conte instead hit the national talk-show scene.
The Colden case also combines sex and politics.
James and Kelly Colden married in 1987 and settled down to a two-income suburban life. They had two children and a house in Arvada. James Colden made a decent salary as a buyer for a car-wash supply company. Last March it seemed the family's fortunes were on the rise when Kelly Colden, a controller for the City of Arvada, was promoted to city finance director and given a hefty raise.
Four months later, however, the Colden marriage was essentially over: Kelly Colden filed for divorce July 21. The poster went up at about the same time.
Over a pair of mug shots of Colden, the flier read: "This subject may be unhappy in regard to recent issues with the city. It is speculated he may come to city hall in order to deal with these matters although no overt threats have been made. Subject may have a tendency toward violence, but this has not been substantiated. Please contact police dispatch if he is seen in the building."
Not all the fliers were the same. Some also included Colden's name, birthdate, address, physical characteristics and descriptions of his vehicles. In addition, those fliers noted that Colden has a "history for DUI." (Colden claims in his filing, however, that the DUI claims were false and that he has never been convicted of a crime. Adams County officials confirm that Colden was found not guilty of DUI following a 1991 arrest on that charge.)
City officials say the fliers were posted out of public view at receptionists' desks throughout city hall and the neighboring annex building, where the city's finance and human services departments are located.
When Colden heard about the fliers (reportedly six weeks after they'd been posted), he met with police officials and was given a copy. Arvada police lieutenant Ted Mink says the fliers have been taken down.
James Colden refuses comment to Westword, but he did spill out his angst in a phone call to radio talk-show host Dan Caplis last month on KTLK-AM. "I'm hesitant to give much information," Colden, who identified himself only as "Jim," told Caplis. "My wife had an affair with the city attorney. And when I found out, this [flier] went up. I didn't detail the affair in the claim, because I didn't want to hurt anybody." Colden also denied that he'd ever been violent.
"Because of governmental immunity," replied Caplis, who is an attorney, "you can sue a city if there's willful or wanton intention or conduct, but those cases are extremely hard."
But the more Colden revealed, the more enthusiastic Caplis became. "Jim," Caplis said at last, "this may be, and probably is, one of the very few exceptions. If this is true, this is probably the most outrageous thing I've ever seen from a city entity. If these facts can be proven, you can dismantle these guys."
Kelly Colden says, however, that her estranged husband's facts are exaggerated. The fliers that included her husband's name and description were not distributed to receptionists, she says, "and Jim and I talked about that." Kelly Colden maintains that only police officers were given the fully detailed fliers.
Kelly Colden also questions her husband's motives in filing the claim. "What I heard him say on the radio was that all he wanted was to get to the bottom of it," she says. "But he declined to meet with the city manager and police chief when it was offered."
Kelly Colden says she did not ask city officials to distribute the flier, adding that she was attending a retreat in Colorado Springs when the city manager called to tell her about it. She says she wasn't asked for her opinion on the matter, but that she wasn't pleased. "I said it was going to be an embarrassment to me."
According to Lieutenant Mink, the fliers were posted after employees who work in the annex building voiced concern that Colden might hurt himself or others. Their concerns apparently were based in large part on two unsubstantiated rumors: that Colden had entered the building after hours to search for his wife and that he'd vaulted over a business counter to get to his wife's office. Police have no record of such occurrences. (Colden has no history of violence, but Arvada police did say they were called to his home in early 1993 on a report that he had threatened suicide.)
"The chief," says Mink, "decided to get a picture of Colden so that at least the receptionists would have an idea of what he looked like." James Colden, says Mink, did meet with then-city manager Neal Berlin. "I think they resolved their differences and he requested a copy of the flier, and I was authorized to give him one."
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Not long after receiving a copy of the flier, Colden filed his intent to sue. It landed on Klausing's desk. City officials haven't yet responded to the claim, says Klausing, "but they are going to deny any liability or claim." Klausing no longer has much say-so in the matter. He resigned under pressure December 1. A city councilmember says only that Klausing was released because officials had come to question his judgment.
(The council apparently felt the same way about Berlin. He was booted late last year, as well.)
Neither Klausing--who is now in the midst of a divorce--nor Kelly Colden would answer questions about their purported relationship, calling such questions "nobody's business." Both say they feel the matter has nothing whatsoever to do with Jim Colden's legal action against the city.