Stapleton officials can't figure out if they can accept parks lover's cash offer

To Patricia Olson, the offer just made sense. If the Stapleton Development Corporation was having trouble paying for the continued services of Dennis Piper, a key consultant involved in planning the emerging neighborhood's parks and open space, then Olson would pay Piper's salary out of her own pocket.

But her generous offer has been hanging fire for two weeks while SDC officials try to figure out what to do about it.

"If they're sincere, then this is a monetary issue, and I don't understand why they can't go ahead and accept the offer," Olson says.

Piper, a veteran federal and local park planner who helped to author Stapleton's development plan for its extensive system of greenways and parks, has moved into a consultant role in recent years, seeing that implementation of the plan conformed to the principles outlined in Stapleton's master "Green Book." He was being paid approximately $3,000 a month for his expertise -- until an SDC meeting late last month, when King Harris, president of the Park Creek Metro District, announced that Piper's position was being eliminated because of budget concerns.

That news brought expressions of concern from members of citizen advisory groups, who view Piper as a savvy overseer who has helped keep the community's parks development on track. It also prompted Olson, a Stapleton resident and veterinarian, to suggest she would pay $12,000 to keep Piper on for another four months, buying time for other sources of funding to be worked out.

"I didn't go in there with the idea that I would make that offer," Olson says. "But there's unfinished work here, so why not let him work? He knows the system."

Olson has been critical in the past of some of the park actions by Forest City and Denver Parks and Recreation, including the use of poisons to gas prairie dog colonies in Stapleton open space areas, a battle I wrote about in a feature last year, "The Dogs of War." In a February 27 letter to Kevin Marchman, the chair of SDC's board of directors, Olson expanded on her offer: "I believe very strongly in the work that the Park Advisory Group is doing and value the expertise and professionalism that Mr. Piper brings to our parks. This ongoing, and uninterrupted, work is crucial for the betterment of our entire community."

Marchman has yet to accept or decline Olson's cash. He did not respond to a request for comment, but Olson says that in her conversations with him, he's expressed reservations about whether the nonprofit can accept a donation from a private individual that's earmarked for a particular purpose and whether a vote of the board is required.

The board's next meeting is scheduled for March 20. We'll keep you posted on whether any money changes hands.

More from our Follow That Story archive circa May 2013: "Prairie dog poisonings not the only things angering Stapleton residents."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast