Leave a Message at the Bleep
The Denver Urban Renewal Authority's most persistent problem lately doesn't stem from any of the agency's multi-million-dollar downtown development projects. Instead, it's coming from a lone homeowner who holds DURA responsible for a four-foot crack in his home's foundation. The ongoing fracas has seen DURA officials file criminal harassment charges against Rick Moore, who in return has accused the officials of abusing their public office.
"I'm not going away," says the 45-year-old Moore. "I'll dog their ass until I get some resolution to this situation."
The "situation" began when Moore and his wife, Jeanne, approached the city-run agency in April 1995 in hopes of being one of the hundred or so Denver homeowners to qualify for the 1 percent home-improvement loans DURA grants annually through its Single Family Rehab Program. In order to qualify, homeowners must earn 50 to 80 percent less than the average median income. According to city officials, the loans are primarily intended to help bring aging houses up to code, but remaining funds can be used at the homeowners' discretion.
"Throughout the whole process, the people from DURA have treated my family like we're a charity case just because we qualified for this loan," says Moore. "But that doesn't mean they can step on me. My wife and I have never owned anything before this house. It's not a castle, but it's ours."
According to Moore, when DURA inspector Don Eloe came out to take a look at his three-bedroom ranch-style home in Virginia Village, Eloe told him to replace the house's lead pipes and put smoke detectors in every room, but not to worry about a "hairline" crack in the home's foundation. Moore took Eloe's advice, paying a contractor $120 to patch the crack with epoxy. What remained of the $10,000 loan he used to remodel his kitchen and bathrooms.
However, just a few months later Moore noticed that the crack in his foundation was getting bigger. And when he brought out a different contractor to look at the damage, that contractor estimated that repairs would cost at least $2,500--money that Moore says he doesn't have.
"I took Eloe's advice, and instead of using this money to fix my foundation, I put it all into the kitchen," he says. "But what's the use of a pretty kitchen if my house is falling down?"
Moore took his case back to DURA, which he held responsible for the repairs since the agency's inspector hadn't properly diagnosed the foundation damage. However, Moore says DURA gave him the cold shoulder: "They said it wasn't their problem."
So Moore set out to make sure it was. Unable to get in touch with a live body at DURA, Moore left at least eight voicemail messages for Eloe and DURA executive director Susan Powers expressing his displeasure. Eloe and Powers never called him back. But the police did, issuing Moore a summons charging him with harassment on November 21.
"DURA followed all the proper procedures," says Myrna Hipp, who was the agency's housing program manager at the time Moore phoned in his complaints. "[Moore] signed off on all the work and approved payment. As far as we were concerned, all the work was acceptable. Then the DURA staff started to receive--how shall we say--irregular calls from Mr. Moore."
They also started to record them. And the transcripts of Moore's November 1996 messages, which DURA turned over to police, read like outtakes from a Dirty Harry movie:
* November 7: "You know what, I really like fighting with you. I really like it. This is an intriguing thing to me, it is incredible. But anyway, I have plans and, baby, they are going to come off. Never underestimate one man, young person."
* November 8: "You know where I live. Give me a call. I'll let you into my house, we'll talk. You're damn right I'm surly, I've been screwed. You like getting screwed? I don't think so, buddy."
* November 11: "Hello, Mr. Eloe. Rick Moore, aka Mr. Surly. This is your third chance. I always give a man three chances. Remember, I have options and I'm exercising them as we speak. I'm not going away, buddy. And you know the next step is not your supervisor. It's Mrs. Powers. I'm going after her then. And you know how this works, you know the system. You are going to be the sacrificial goat, one way or another."
* November 11 (continued): "I am not screwing around with you anymore. I am losing patience with you. And don't think I don't have any power. I've got some damn power that you don't even believe. You've relinquished the power. I have control now."
Moore wound up being charged with disturbance by use of telephone for making the calls to the DURA office and received six months' probation. The court also ordered him to attend a mediation session with Eloe and Powers, but Moore says the mediation was a joke. "I knew that we weren't going to talk seriously about my problem right from the start," he says. "Susan Powers walked in there, and the first thing out of her mouth was, 'Can we hurry this up? I've got to close a $200,000 deal in an hour.'
"Then we're sitting there, and the mediator is having us write down our feelings with different colored pens on an easel and telling us to squeeze these little rubber balls if we get anxious or upset. It wasn't a mediation, it was game-playing. The whole thing was feel-good Seventies bullshit. I don't care about feeling good. I want my foundation repaired."
Moore, who says he's never fought anything like this in his life, says his phone calls to DURA were made out of frustration. "The whole thing stems from the fact that they may have taken my complaint but they never intended to do anything about it," he says. "The people at DURA think that they can hide behind their bureaucracy, but I'm not going to let that happen." Moore still contends that DURA owes him the cost of repairs to his foundation as well as an apology for ignoring his complaint. "It was over as far as they were concerned," he says. "Hell, it never even began for them."
Still unsatisfied after the mediation, Moore filed his own complaint with police, asking that authorities file criminal charges against Powers for "official oppression" as well as first- and second-degree official misconduct. "I also hold Don Eloe criminally liable for impersonating a structural engineer," says Moore. "Only at the mediation did I find out that he's not an engineer at all. If he didn't know what he was talking about, he shouldn't have opened his mouth in the first place."
Neither Powers nor Eloe returned calls from Westword, but Myrna Hipp says that as far as she's concerned, DURA did everything by the book. "We've had a small number of instances of homeowners dissatisfied with the quality of work," says Hipp, "and DURA works hard to remedy those situations. But I don't know what you can do if a person is this adamant about something that DURA allegedly missed on an inspection."
Police and prosecutors never took Moore up on his request that they file charges against Powers, deeming his complaint a civil matter, not a criminal one. But Moore says he'll continue to fight until DURA gives him what he wants. "Why is it that my house is less important than projects like the Adam's Mark or the Pavilions, which DURA has poured millions into?" he asks. "The backbone of this city is homeowners like me, and DURA treats us like dirt."
Hipp, however, says Moore was treated fairly. "The folks at DURA have enough experience to identify problems properly," she says. "It's not like they saw something and turned their backs on it. You're always dealing with the potential of human error, but I feel safe saying that nobody at DURA set out to screw the Moores."
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