Off Limits

Snow biz: Revenues fell last year at the Winter Park ski resort. But more troubling to the corporation that runs the place might be the continued interest in its operations by Denver city auditor Don Mares. Though Denver has ceded day-to-day control of its mountain wonderland to the bluebloods at the Winter Park Recreational Association, the city's still the owner of record. And in a recent compliance audit, Mares's office raised questions about a variety of deals cut between the WPRA and the administration of Mayor Wellington Webb.

In her audit, auditor's office CPA Marie Tapp found that the WPRA was in compliance with the terms of its agreement with the city and had made its required annual payment to Denver--just over $2 million for fiscal year 1997. However, she also threw in a few other recommendations: that members of the WPRA board should file public financial disclosure statements; that the city and WPRA should rewrite their operating agreement, drafted in 1950 and amended six times since; and that the auditor should continue to audit the resort on a regular basis.

That last item is an especially sticky political wicket, since it's based on the concern that city parks boss B.J. Brooks (the Mercedes-driving Webb appointee known for shooting golf on city time) has a conflict. Not only does Brooks have a competing fiduciary responsibility to both the city and the resort (where she serves as a member of the board), notes Mares, but she also claims to be the only Denver official with the power to order an audit of Winter Park. Mares calls that a "cockamamy" assertion. "How in the world will we feel comfortable that any manager will ask for an audit--and that if the wrong answers come out, they will expose those to the public?" he asks.

The resort, meanwhile, isn't eager to expose much of anything. On October 19, WPRA general counsel William J. Baum, Jr. sent Tapp a letter thanking her for her interest--and rejecting every one of her recommendations.

The good news for the WPRA is that, as auditor, Mares has the power to complain but not the power to force compliance. The not-so-good news: Mares says he'll keep up the pressure, sending follow-up letters to the mayor and the city council and adding Winter Park to his regular schedule of audits despite the resort's insistence that he lacks the legal authority to do so.

"Unless they're hiding something, they have nothing to fear," says the auditor. "I would love to go to court over this issue."

And the hits just keep on coming: Big surprise that Keith Weinman decided to tell his story--or what passed as his story--on Channel 9 Monday night rather than on Channel 4, the station that finally let him go earlier this month after the morning business newsguy's second highly public arrest for domestic violence. The TV gig was just one of six jobs he juggled, Weinman told Erica Wilner, explaining his frantic state--not that he did anything to his wife, mind you, no matter what the police report might say. He loves her very much, Weinman added; the two are just very "passionate." But that last bout of rib-battering "passion" also finally cost Weinman his business-editor job at KOA radio, the Jacor powerhouse that had kept him on even after Weinman was charged with stalking his wife back in August 1997.

There was plenty more domestic-violence discussion Tuesday up in Longmont, but this time the media figure at the center was Rocky Mountain News columnist Bill Johnson. He went on trial this week in Boulder County on charges of third-degree assault and negligent child abuse in connection with yet another "passionate" incident with his ex-wife, Carol Shirley, last December in front of their children. By noon Tuesday, the lawyers had just finished opening arguments. The Boulder prosecutor outlined the case as being about "a man's need to be in control," evidenced by Johnson yelling at his wife and slamming the door on her arm; Johnson's attorney agreed that "this was a marriage that dealt with power and control," although in his version, the wife used control to exert power. When Shirley decided to leave California with their two children in order to attend graduate school at the University of Colorado, he argued, she left Johnson two choices: stay in California or "give up his job" and move to Colorado. Luckily, Johnson was able to find a job at the News, his attorney said.

Actually, he was lucky to find that job twice. Shortly after Johnson initially accepted the plum, high-paying position of News cityside columnist, replacing the late Greg Lopez, he decided to stay in California. When he later changed his mind, the paper renewed its offer.

One of the potential jurors could have told Johnson's lawyer all about that. Longtime political reporter John Sanko had been called for jury duty in the case but was dismissed before opening arguments.


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