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Soar Winner

Four years ago this month, Richard Boulware flew into heavy turbulence. His life has yet to straighten out.

On February 22, 1993, Boulware--who in 1984 had beaten out hundreds of candidates to become Stapleton Airport's public-affairs officer, a job that nine years later carried increased responsibilities and the impressive title of Deputy Director of Aviation--was called into the office of acting aviation director Ginger Evans and told his department was being revamped and his duties changed. Overnight, he went from supervising 65 people to supervising one--himself--and performing such lowly tasks as photographing the public works department's employee of the quarter.

They were damn good pictures, Boulware will tell you.
When Boulware does a job, he does it thoroughly. He approaches every task--including the long fight to win back his job--like the military veteran he is: strategizing a campaign, compiling data, studying the enemy for any weakness.

And after four years, Boulware knows the city's weaknesses.
Eight months after Boulware's job was restructured--it would be three years before a judge would call it what it really was, a demotion following a "sham reorganization"--Denver missed the first of its deadlines for opening the new airport. The gala party went on nonetheless. Four months later the city missed another opening deadline, then another, then another. In the meantime, a new manager of aviation, Jim DeLong, came aboard. He elevated four department heads to a higher pay grade--one that had not existed previously in the city's Career Service Authority, and one hardly justified by anyone's performance at the airport. In July 1994 they were joined by a new deputy manager of aviation for public relations/governmental affairs, Diane Koller.

She got the job Boulware considered rightfully his. He still does.
On Monday that job suddenly was open again. Koller, who'd been a lobbyist for American Airlines in Washington, D.C., for seven years before she took the DIA spot, is leaving to join a local public-relations firm. "It was a challenge to help Denver International Airport get up and running," she told one reporter, in the understatement of the decade. "Now it's doing very well, so it's time to move on to a new opportunity."

Koller leaves behind a host of challenging opportunities, however. One of her marketing missions was to truly put the "international" in DIA, by luring overseas air service to Denver. Back in 1993--back when Boulware was still accepting assurances from the head of Career Service that he had not been demoted, back when Denver residents still thought the new airport would open on schedule--a city-hired consultant predicted that Denver could support 57 overseas flights every week.

Today the city's new airport, which opened fifteen months behind schedule, has exactly zero.

Crediting the departing Koller with improving the image of the airport, DeLong pronounced that she would be "sorely missed."

By whom? Phoenix, which snagged the British Airways nonstop to London that Denver coveted?

While Koller was interviewing for the DIA job, Boulware was beginning to suspect the city had gone out of its way to give him a rough ride. He filed a grievance questioning not only his reassignment, but also certain airport expenditures. Why, for example, were funds earmarked for DIA instead used to subsidize his unwanted photography career? After Koller was hired, Boulware filed a second grievance, claiming that he'd been discriminated against--demoted, Boulware argued, because he hadn't played ball politically.

A Career Service hearing officer agreed (he declined, however, to consider Boulware's claims about improper expenditures) and in September 1994 ordered the city to appoint Boulware to the position of deputy director of marketing and public affairs. Koller's position.

Instead, the city appealed the hearing officer's ruling to the Career Service Board. The board reversed the decision.

Boulware fought on. So did the city.
Of course, this was not the only legal problem to land at the airport's doorstep. The city spent $2 million fighting a two-year SEC investigation into DIA bond sales, only to have the agency drop its probe this fall. That good news came just in time to buoy the city in its lawsuit against the architects of the DIA terminal--a suit the city lost at trial, after incurring another $3 million in outside legal fees. The city even signed up hired guns to battle Boulware at "taxpayer expense," the judge on the case noted, although "these appeals are common and routinely handled by the salaried attorneys of the City Attorneys' Office."

That's not all Denver District Court Judge John Coughlin noted. On December 12 he ordered the city to return Boulware "to a position with the same character of duties and responsibilities as the position from which he was demoted." The city had violated Career Service rules when it demoted Boulware, Coughlin ruled. But he did not agree that Denver had discriminated against Boulware when it hired Koller.

Having come this far, Boulware is not giving an inch. His new job, he says, must meet three requirements. He wants to answer directly to the director of aviation, with the title of deputy director. He wants to be in a policy-making position. He wants to supervise employees--as many as the 65 he supervised until four years ago. And oh, yes, there's a fourth: He wants Koller's salary. He wants the pay grade those other airport officials were bumped to while he was left in limbo.

"They say I'm looking for a free ride up the promotion ladder," says Boulware. "Our case is going to be that these people got a free ride. If I had not been on the mayor's blacklist, I would have been the first one promoted. I'm the one who can prove what I'm worth by the awards still on the wall."

In fact, Boulware has a 1994 letter from DeLong promising "your name will remain on the Career Service promotion list...and certified should the [public affairs deputy manager] position become vacant."

Which it now is. And so, a month from now, when Boulware and his lawyer and the city attorney and the city attorney's attorney return to Coughlin's court to "argue about some minor ambiguities" in the judge's order, Boulware will be ready to throw some major bombs. To talk about those misspent airport funds. To talk about how city officials lied. To tell the truth, he says.

From the start, the truth has been a commodity in notoriously short supply at DIA. And what would Boulware have done had he been sitting in the public-relations hot seat during those endless months when baggage systems were failing and concrete was cracking and the rest of the world was wondering just what the hell was happening at Denver's still-unopened $5 billion new airport?

"I would have told people the truth," he says.
Instead, Boulware is now an airport special-projects director. This means he directs himself as he goes about his special project: handling noise complaints. He approaches this, as he does every task, like the veteran he is: strategizing a campaign, compiling data, studying the enemy for any weakness.

Last month DIA announced that noise complaints were down--and so were the fines facing the airport. This did not surprise Boulware, who'd worked hard soothing residents of affected neighborhoods. Some of those people even came to Boulware's December court hearing. "These people know I'm not part of the political system," he explains. "They see me as an ombudsman."

And so, amazingly, does Boulware. After four years of "hell," four years in which he lost his marriage and his savings, he fights on with a single-minded passion. He'll get that job back. After all, if he can sell himself, he can sell anything.

Even