Veggo Larsen, the city manager of Glendale, keeps one pressed suit, one clean golf shirt and a set of clubs packed in the backseat of his Chevy Blazer. After all, at the end of any city council meeting, held on the first and third Tuesday evenings of each month, Larsen could find himself unemployed. But for the 48-year-old bachelor, the thought of speeding off into the night is not so horrible. He imagines the moment when his car reaches the interstate. "I could just go in either direction," he says.
Larsen was living in Manhattan in the summer of 1998 when he received a phone call from an old drinking buddy back in Denver. Attorney Chuck Bonniwell cut to the quick: "Veggo, why don't you come out here and run Glendale?"
It was a lot for Bonniwell to offer. He didn't even work for the City of Glendale. He did, however, run the newly created Glendale Tea Party, a political group whose members now constituted a majority on the six-member Glendale City Council.
Still, Larsen laughed at the thought of working for the public. He was doing just fine managing the real estate assets of heavy-hitters with multimillion-dollar portfolios. Larsen made just over $100,000 a year and enjoyed getting lost in his world of numbers and formulas and maintaining a life of anonymity. And what was Glendale, anyway? A town the size of a sandbox (just ten blocks wide, from Colorado Boulevard to South Fairfax, and eight blocks deep, from East Alameda Avenue to Mississippi) that sat like an island inside the southeast corner of Denver, filled with a few apartments and strip clubs.
But Larsen thought he would amuse himself, so he grabbed his golf clubs and hopped the next flight to Denver. When he got to town, Bonniwell took him to Coors Field, where he met Mike Dunafon, co-founder of the Glendale Tea Party, and Mark Smiley, a Glendale councilman who was also a member of the Tea Party. When Bonniwell couldn't score the best tickets in the house, the group headed to a LoDo rooftop patio and spent the afternoon eating and drinking beer in the sun while the sounds of the nearby Rockies game slid into their conversation. They spoke nothing of Glendale.
The next night, Bonniwell and Dunafon took Larsen to meet Jay Balano, another councilman and Tea Party member, this time at Rodney's, one of their favorite watering holes in nearby Cherry Creek. The group of men spent the night swilling liquor and shooting malespeak: sports, vacations, women. Larsen remembers that "pound for pound, Balano was world-class when it comes to drinkin'. He might be small, but he can tip 'em back."
The next morning, Larsen met Dunafon and Kay Parker, yet another new councilmember who was part of the Tea Party, for breakfast at the Riviera, a Mexican restaurant on East Kentucky Avenue. Again, the meeting went well.
At first Larsen considered the weekend a good time spent in a small town. But as he thought about it, he realized he was tiring of the Big Apple lifestyle. He'd lived in Denver for a few years in the mid-'90s and still had a nucleus of friends here. And becoming the city manager of Glendale did seem like an interesting challenge. Larsen knew there were 130 applications from people across the country who wanted the job, the majority of them with several years' worth of civic experience. Larsen had none.
The deck was crudely stacked in Larsen's favor, though. Dunafon, who had no official position with the city, had ordered the Tea Party's members on city council to award him the task of chairing the search for a city manager, and they'd complied. At the reception for the six finalists, Larsen recalls, the fix was so apparent to the candidates visiting from other cities that he almost felt sorry for them. "When Chuck's girlfriend shows up and gives me a big hug, they knew. Oh, they knew," he remembers. "They knew there was a rat in the woodpile -- they just didn't know which one."
Yet shortly after Larsen's hiring in October 1998, the strings that tied him to the Tea Party began unraveling.
"I take my job very seriously," Larsen says. "They should have asked me a few more questions before they hired me."
Had Tea Party founders Bonniwell and Dunafon asked Larsen more questions, they would have realized that their elaborate plans -- which, according to Larsen, included a surreptitious land grab, an ice rink along Cherry Creek and a midnight flight to the Channel Islands -- were simply not his cup of tea.
In the 1930s and '40s, as small communities began to spring up around the periphery of Denver, the big city tried to reel them in. Glendale, a former dairy farm, was able to ward off annexation attempts because it had a few dance clubs and bars that provided a small economic base. Soon liquor licenses, which were approved by the Arapahoe County commissioners, began proliferating along what is now Colorado Boulevard. In January 1952, business owners circulated petitions to incorporate Glendale as its own town. The petition was approved that March, and Glendale, all 355 acres of it, was left to its own devices. For its part, Denver continued to annex small towns until Glendale was surrounded.
Since then, Glendale has acted as a 4,000-citizen independent state -- though a flawed one, almost entirely dependent on its retail businesses to provide taxes for cash flow. As much as 80 percent of the $19 million operating budget is earned from Glendale's business community.
To build on the relatively small number of people who lived within the city limits, Glendale city fathers approved a disproportionate number of "adult-only" apartment buildings. In the mid-'80s, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled such exclusive apartment buildings discriminatory and therefore illegal. But by then Glendale's population base had been established: single renters who traditionally cared little about civic pride or responsibility. Few families moved into the city's townhomes; when they did, it was largely so that their children could attend Cherry Creek schools. To this day, amid expansive retail vistas such as Skyline Center on Colorado Boulevard (complete with a Chili's and Office Depot) and office campuses like the Cherry Creek Corporate Center (MCI, Charles Schwab), only three single-family dwellings call Glendale home. Ninety-two percent of the town's citizens are renters. In 1988, 24 people voted in the Glendale municipal election.
Ten years later, the town was ripe for the Tea Party's revolt. When Joe Rice, now the mayor of Glendale, was honorably discharged from the Army in 1990, he left Fort Carson and bought a condo in Glendale. He barely noticed that he wasn't living in Denver. "We still have some people who move to Glendale, then leave Glendale and never knew they were in Glendale," he says. "It was only three years ago that we got our own post office."
As Rice became friendly with neighbors and grew active in his city, he noticed there was little sense of community. There was no recreation center, no preschool for kids. "At one point," says Rice, "the bars ran the community entirely. Everything the city did, [it] did for the benefit of bars and businesses, because that's who ran the town." So Rice ran for city council. In campaign literature that outlined his plans to bring the town into the mainstream, he made note of a new Glendale: "In the past several years Glendale has undergone a significant shift away from adult oriented businesses and bars, and to a more resident-family community." Rice was elected in 1994. Two years later, he became mayor of Glendale.
In early 1998, Denver City Council began considering a proposal to raise the minimum age of adult dancers from 18 to 21. Outraged Denver club owners complained that Glendale, which still allowed 18-year-olds to dance, would steal their young dancers and then their business. At a Glendale council meeting attended by a total of four citizens, Rice asked why it was that Glendale still permitted 18-year-olds to strip. Then he suggested that Glendale follow Denver's lead and raise the minimum age for dancers to 21.
As Glendale councilmembers discussed the age requirement, they started proposing more regulations: Dancers could come no closer than six feet from their customers; dancers had to apply for "entertainment licenses"; club owners needed to provide a table-side tip jar instead of allowing patrons to slide folded dollar bills beneath a performer's G-string. Rice called the regulations Ordinance 4 and scheduled public hearings. "My only regret," he says now, "is that I didn't just stick to the original intent."
When Debbie Matthews learned about Ordinance 4, she viewed it as an attack on her business. In addition to being Mike Dunafon's girlfriend, Matthews has owned Shotgun Willie's since 1982. If dancers weren't allowed to get up close and personal with the customers, she figured, why would anyone come to the club? She called her lawyer, who told her she had no legal recourse. So, Matthews says, "we didn't have much choice but to deal with the issue politically."
The owners of the Mile High Saloon quickly joined up with Matthews. With the help of Dunafon and Bonniwell, they started to organize against Rice's ordinance. Within weeks, Bonniwell and Dunafon had spread word through the clubs, registered new voters and whipped up support, raising more than $10,000 -- about twenty times more than had ever been spent on a Glendale election. Gaggles of dancers from the clubs knocked on apartment doors and told men how they could vote in Glendale -- and what to vote for. They kept their message simple: Don't let the government regulate our lives. Especially our sex lives.
But to really win, Bonniwell and Dunafon had to do something drastic: They needed to take over the council. A municipal election was fast approaching, and three seats were up for grabs. Bonniwell and Dunafon weren't interested in running themselves: Bonniwell lived outside of Glendale; Dunafon says he didn't want to attract media scrutiny to himself or to Matthews's business. But the two budding politicos didn't have to look far for potential candidates. In fact, two of them lived in the same condominium complex as Dunafon. And one, 24-year-old Chris Perry, lived directly across the pathway.
On March 9, 1998, one month before the election, the newly formed Glendale Tea Party held a press conference at the four-star Loews Giorgio Hotel on East Mississippi Avenue, where the party's three candidates announced their run for city hall. The trio promised to derail the "political machine" being driven by Mayor Joe Rice.
Perry took to the podium and told reporters, "Democracy must be regained in Glendale." Kay Parker, a 54-year-old mother of three, agonized that Rice was pushing a "hidden agenda" that was turning Glendale into "a new utopian welfare state." Jay Balano, a retired Boston cop, declared: "We are going to take on city hall, and we will take back the city."
A little more than a week later, Rice pushed through Ordinance 4 with a unanimous vote from city council. But the law never took effect. On April 7, the day of the big election, 473 Glendale voters turned out -- twenty times the number that had voted ten years before. Each of the Tea Party candidates received at least 300 votes.
In mid-May, Ordinance 4 was repealed by a 4-2 vote of the new council after councilwoman Irma Reiss changed her original vote.
One month later, a fourth Tea Party member, Mark Smiley, was added to the council after Rice ally David Dye resigned, saying he was upset with the new council. It "lacked integrity," Dye said, and failed to promote free discussion. Now with a solid majority at city hall, the Tea Party coalition began implementing ordinances to entrench its position.
More than 300 card-carrying Tea Party members began to enjoy the economic privileges of living in Glendale. The "1999 Membership Discount Guide" lists businesses that offer reduced pricing exclusively for party members. At the Four Mile House on Leetsdale Drive, "Glendale Tea Party members get their second drink free." Members who flash their cards at Majestic Dry Cleaners receive a 10 percent discount on dry cleaning. And at Cherri Plaza Liquors, Tea Party followers get a 10 percent discount on all wines, but they "must present a valid membership card."
As more citizens jumped on the Tea Party train, the local and national press ate up the irresistible story, angling hard on the sexual politics. NBC reporter Josh Mankiewicz visited the town and filed a Dateline report titled "Naked City." Mankiewicz's script portrayed the Glendale Tea Party as an unlikely grassroots organization of strippers and their loyal customers who, inspired by political freedom, came together to beat back a tyrannical city hall.
Meanwhile, the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office was investigating complaints of voter fraud. Records showed three new voters had claimed they lived at an address that was the residence of John Hill, owner of the Mile High Saloon. Two others said they lived at a Glendale townhouse owned by Debbie Matthews. Mayor Rice alleged that using fake addresses was a bogus trend popping up all over Glendale.
Last summer, however, the district attorney's office closed the case after failing to turn up any evidence that criminal activity had occurred during Glendale's biggest election.
The Tea Party was still gathering steam. Dunafon was appointed to the planning commission, and last January, councilmembers voted to hire Solutions and Beyond Management, a lobbying firm. Although Glendale had never hired a lobbyist before and had no issues pending before the legislature, suddenly it needed to spend $140,000 during a two-year period on lobbying. But the selection was no coincidence: Chuck Bonniwell serves as legal advisor to Solutions and Beyond. (The contract has since been terminated, but not before the city paid the firm $41,000.)
And the Tea Party had big plans for their town.
This time of year, Cherry Creek is only as wide as an SUV is long. As it turtles past the Four Mile Historic Park, the creek suddenly expands to forty yards wide and falls off a spillway of boulders. At that point, the crashing waters drown out the rumbling cars on the street above, and a blue sign with white letters reads "WELCOME TO GLENDALE."
For the next two thirds of a mile, the water calms down and sludges against grassy banks on the north side and office and condo development along the south. Come summertime, when runoff trickles down from the mountains in full force, the creek waters will rise, spread out and move as quickly as a jackrabbit. This stretch of land is Glendale's future.
In early 1998, the City of Denver, along with Glendale and Arapahoe County, commissioned a study of commercial and public development along an eight-mile strip of Cherry Creek. Denver picked up the $250,000 tab and hired BRW, a local planning consultant, to do the research. The study, which won't be completed until November 2000, already marks primary spots for development. Empty parcels that run through Glendale are tagged "opportunity nodes," industry parlance for "a good place to build something, attract a lot of people and make a lot of money."
But Glendale's nodes of opportunity are causing problems because other people own the land. In 1997, one year before the Tea Party took control, the city council had approved Denver developer Rod Brown's plans to raise a Holiday Inn Express along the creek's banks. In fact, the hotel was included in the city's comprehensive plan. A developer for Marriott Residence Inn, Ed Kileen, also had an approved project in the works.
Learning of the Denver-subsidized study after he took office, Veggo Larsen asked both developers if they would wait for its completion before breaking ground along Cherry Creek; both declined. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on architects and planners, the builders "were ready to take off," Larsen says. "They were like planes halfway down the runway."
But something else was about to pop up on the radar screen: Riverwalk.
The idea came from Chuck Bonniwell, who'd visited San Antonio several times and was impressed with the shops, restaurants and walkways that line the San Antonio River as it passes through that city. He'd been kicking around the idea of creating a Glendale version for quite a while -- he can't pinpoint exactly when it came to him -- as a way to "make Glendale great." In his imagination, he now sees coffee shops and open-air restaurants, a nice pedestrian boulevard along Cherry Creek. And maybe -- just maybe -- an ice rink. "For kids, for everyone to enjoy," he says.
"This city needs something that is its own vision," Bonniwell says, balled fist in the air, a stogie protruding between his fingers. "Glendale needs to have its own vision, or it will become whatever Denver wants. If it could have something like a Riverwalk," he says, hands out wide now, as if he can see the marquee above him, "then it could have its own identity."
But for Bonniwell, this dream may not have a happy ending. "It will probably never be built," he sighs. Because while Bonniwell may control the Glendale Tea Party, but he doesn't control the land along Cherry Creek.
In the fall of 1998, developer Brown gave the city revised plans for his site. Instead of erecting a one-story pit stop for traveling businessmen, he hoped to create an extended-stay oasis with an outdoor pool and luxury suites, tentatively named the "Staybridge Plan." But at a council meeting on November 3, 1998 -- just one day before Brown's architect was scheduled to meet with the city's head of community development -- the Tea Party-controlled council suddenly passed an "emergency ordinance" that nixed hotel development for six months. The moratorium was limited to within 600 feet of Cherry Creek.
Speaking for the council, Mark Smiley explained that Glendale was waiting to learn what the Denver-based study had in mind for Glendale. But Brown and Kileen had no intention of waiting for that study's completion. Brown sued the city, complaining that the council had abruptly changing the ground rules. Kileen's lawsuit soon followed. Both suits named the councilmembers as defendants.
Brown's complaint claims that "prior to the consideration of the Staybridge Plan by the Glendale City Council, Rod Brown was informed by representatives of the Glendale 'Tea Party' that his plans for a hotel on the Hotel Property were going to be 'killed' by the Tea Party. Mr. Brown was also warned by the Mayor of Glendale, Joe Rice, of the Tea Party councilmembers' determination to prevent the construction of any hotel on the hotel property." (Rice says he met with Bonniwell and Dunafon in late summer of 1998 to discuss the Riverwalk idea, at least two months before the emergency moratorium.)
Brown and his lawyer, Reid Lichtenfels, declined to discuss the suit. When he deposed the councilmembers, however, Lichtenfels asked each one if Bonniwell and Dunafon had put them up to the moratorium. All denied it. In fact, in his deposition, Balano took credit for the idea, and added, "I am [also] opposed to any other development in the area that does not enhance the future economic benefit of the city for the long term."
But Larsen also claims that the moratorium was his brainchild.
When Larsen had visited Glendale for the job interview, he explains, he'd asked: "What's with all the hotels?" The small town had five hotels, with a total of 863 rooms -- eleven times the national average of rooms per capita. "And let's face it," Larsen adds. "We're not Las Vegas or Miami Beach. We're Glendale." Too many hotels just continue Glendale's stigma of being a transient place, he says, "and in a town that is trying to fortify its sense of community, that's not going to help."
Bonniwell and Dunafon never asked him to impose the moratorium, Larsen says. Instead, he acted on instinct -- and unknowingly played into their hands by putting the hotel development on hold. In retrospect, he says: "The concept of 'Riverwalk' was not unappealing. It just wasn't apparent at the time that Riverwalk was really a secret plan to make a few people rich rather than for the collective benefit of the community."
It turns out that Dunafon and Bonniwell jointly own an L-shaped patch of land one block north of the creek that wraps around Shotgun Willie's. The land is not an "opportunity node" in the Denver study, but Bonniwell says that he hopes all of the area developers and landowners, himself included, will work together and connect their parcels for Riverwalk. "But we don't want what's just good for us," Bonniwell argues. "It's what's good for the city."
The idea is so good for the city, Bonniwell adds, that he, Dunafon, Matthews and Glendale business owner Jim O'Connor -- who owns six acres along the creek next to Rod Brown's site -- flew to Texas to meet with developers who'd designed a project similar to Riverwalk for a town there. Although Bonniwell and Dunafon disagree when the trip took place (their estimates are a year apart), both say it happened sometime after the emergency ordinance was passed.
It was also after the moratorium was enacted that Larsen says he had dinner with Dunafon and Bonniwell, and the duo offered him a spot in their private club, nicknamed "the Raptors." As Larsen tells it, Dunafon and Bonniwell said they planned to move to the Channel Islands off the California coast once they turned a profit from Riverwalk. "Then we can get out of this hellhole," he remembers Dunafon saying.
Dunafon and Bonniwell offer different explanations of the Raptors. "What is Veggo talking about?" Dunafon asks. "There's one thing you can't do around Larsen. You can't joke around Larsen. It's what we used to call 'alphas' in the society. What's that movie, that Spielberg movie? The famous one [Jurassic Park]. We were making jokes; we'd refer to somebody as a raptor. But we haven't used that term in years." Bonniwell acknowledges using the term "Raptors" to describe himself, Dunafon and Matthews at the dinner; he says the nickname originated on the campaign trail in 1998. "When you're campaigning, you always want to knock on one more door, one more door," Bonniwell explains. "So we -- Debbie, Mike and I -- would say, comically, 'We're gonna swoop down and see if we can't get one more vote.' It's the one group that has the 'Let's go swoop down' and give some more. It's like a pun on yourself."
After Bonniwell and Dunafon had swooped down on Glendale and taken over city council, Larsen got the job as city manager. He moved to Glendale and arrived for his first day of work on a Tuesday at 9 a.m. sharp. His first order of business was to preside over the weekly staff meeting with department heads. Larsen instantly became top boss of the city, responsible for a hundred employees, including a police department of 34 officers. He struggled in the meeting, feigned control and survived.
"I'll admit it," Rice says. "When they brought in Veggo, I was very skeptical. Veggo was not my choice for city manager, and he knew that. But I tried to build a relationship so I wouldn't cut myself out of the decision-making process. And to his credit, Veggo has done his job with nothing but the utmost integrity. The only reason they're coming after him now is because he didn't do what they wanted him to do. And quite honestly, I think you've got to give it to anybody who can muster the energy to stand up to these guys."
Larsen's large office was devoid of any personal items, styled in harvest gold and avocado furniture. He still keeps the office bare of personal mementos because, he says, "every minute I'm in this office, I'm concentrating on business items. I would not even notice if I had a picture on the wall." At the foot of his desk, he keeps a box of sharpened No. 2 pencils and a stack of graph paper for working budgetary numbers; calculators and computer programs often do not allow him to see "the whole canvas," he says.
When Bonniwell and Dunafon hired him, one of his duties as "their guy," Larsen says, was to promptly fire at least five city employees Bonniwell and Dunafon had marked as deadwood -- the director of finance, the director of community development, the fire chief, the assistant city manager and the city clerk. But Larsen refused to fire any of them.
According to Dunafon, he and Bonniwell were simply reminding Larsen that the Tea Party had campaigned for a smaller bureaucracy and wanted to "streamline government." But Larsen says Dunafon had wanted him to hire a former accountant from Shotgun Willie's as finance director, a carpenter who had worked on Dunafon's home for the community-development position and councilmember Smiley's girlfriend as the director of human resources.
But by December 31, 1998, the party was over. Bonniwell and Dunafon invited Larsen out for lunch at the Riviera. They all sat in a booth at the back. Larsen says it was clear that the Tea Party's founders were furious with him for not moving quickly on the firing.
"They telegraph every punch," Larsen mutters. "They are unable to conceal or mask their true ambitions in anything that they do. They are true gangster wannabes. They couldn't exist, or get away with this, in any other place but a small town."
After Larsen ordered the chicken enchiladas, Dunafon raged on about his shortcomings. Larsen, who stands 6'2" and has broad shoulders, says he feared Dunafon was about to turn violent. So Larsen wiggled past Bonniwell and out of the booth, threw his money on the table and left the restaurant.
In Dunafon's version of the same lunch, he was merely expressing his concerns about how Larsen had been doing his job when Larsen buckled to the criticism. "I said, 'Veggo, I am so disappointed with your job performance that if I had the votes right now, I'd send you back to that beach in Playa del Carmen.' That's all I said. That's all I said." Dunafon innocently holds out his hands. "And the next thing I know, Larsen gets up, reaches into his pockets and throws down cash on the table and storms out. The next day, I hear that I threatened Veggo Larsen's life. Now I'm thinking, 'I threatened Veggo Larsen's life? What? What is this guy talking about?' He's delusional, I tell you."
Dunafon pauses, then says, "We hired a real wacko for the job, I tell you." Larsen, he adds, was "the biggest mistake of my life."
"And one that I'm still paying for," adds Bonniwell.
"Larsen is nothing but a traitorous piece of crap," Dunafon says. He alleges -- and did so in public during a council meeting -- that Larsen prodded Matthews's son to visit prostitutes on a group trip to Mexico, back when Veggo Larsen was one of the guys. Larsen denies this claim.
But the Tea Party faces other problems besides a rogue city manager. Two of their original council candidates, Perry and Balano, are the focus of a recall election. And, remarkably, the authors of the recall petition are Bonniwell and Dunafon.
Bonniwell and Dunafon are angry with their own Tea Party members because Perry and Balano, along with the rest of the council, supported a lodger's tax that Larsen proposed after he projected budgetary shortfalls. Usually, a lodger's tax is harmless politically -- after all, the fees are passed on to out-of-towners visiting hotels. The councilmembers voted to put the tax issue on a citywide ballot and allow the citizens to decide, but two weeks later, Larsen realized the city didn't need the extra cash flow, and the matter was tabled. Still, Bonniwell and Dunafon were in an unforgiving mood and petitioned to recall Perry and Balano.
That recall effort is now pending a ruling by an Arapahoe County judge, which is expected to come down next week. After Glendale's city clerk and attorney initially ruled the recall petitions invalid, since they failed to prove the candidates acted with "willful misconduct or failure to perform duties," Bonniwell sued the city on behalf of five citizens, claiming that Perry and Balano "engaged in malfeasance in office by approving a lodger's tax on the City without proper investigation."
"They lied on their job applications," Dunafon explains, noting that Tea Party members are against taxation. "And anybody who lies on their job application should be fired."
But Perry and Balano may have committed an even bigger sin: They no longer listen to Bonniwell and Dunafon.
And Smiley, too, has his share of problems. This summer the councilman took a business trip to Arizona, which he charged to the City of Glendale, exceeding his per diem by $300. Smiley resisted paying the debt, claiming that Larsen and non-Tea Party members framed him by making "an inadvertent expense report error appear to be criminal." But the rest of the council, including Tea Party members Perry, Balano and Parker, ignored Smiley's setup theory and voted to hold a public hearing to discuss the apparent misuse of city funds. Despite being verbally hammered by a chamber full of Tea Party supporters who backed Smiley, the council defiantly voted for Smiley to pay back the money. Smiley has refused.
City Attorney Mike Feeley, who's a state senator in his spare time, is so tired of the shenanigans that he's quitting his work with Glendale after a little more than one year on the job. One of his last duties is to work on a settlement with developer Brown; that plan, which should be completed this week, will allow Brown to build his hotel. "Little did I know how much time I would spend exclusively on their lawsuits," Feeley says. "They are a litigious bunch. They burn every bridge. When I was hired [in December 1998], they had brought in four members on the city council, the city manager, the city's building inspector and myself. Now they're only on speaking terms with one of those people [Smiley].
"It didn't take long to see what they were up to. They wanted to control the city," Feeley says, and laughs. "I don't know why; it's two guys wanting a lot of power in a small town."
The next municipal election in that small town is just three months away. Bonniwell and Dunafon are still in search of candidates who are willing to run under the Tea Party banner.
Mike Dunafon stands in the kitchen of his townhouse, puffing clouds of smoke from a thick cigar.
Dunafon, who grew up on a ranch in Golden, recalls, "'politician' was a dirty word around our place." After graduating from the University of Northern Colorado, he spent several years trekking through South America, China and Central America, he says, and his travels taught him that a representative democracy has no peer. But after he returned to this country, he sat in on a Glendale City Council meeting in 1996 and was "shocked at the mundane, petty behavior of the leaders in that community." He winced as councilmembers dickered over simpleton regulations such as leash laws. "They were using the dais as a springboard for their personal careers," he says.
Today Dunafon wants to be mayor of Glendale. In order to prevent the continued misuse of city government, he's willing to toss himself into the April election. "We cannot turn our backs on our people," he says. "If you allow inept or inane people into our government, we will be right back where we were three years ago." His political philosophies flow naturally:
First he draws from Thoreau: "That government which governs best..."
Then he's a man of the people: "The residents asked me to run..."
Finally he jabs at his opponents: "The politicians have used Glendale as a cookie jar..."
Dunafon champions the city's renters and reveres its business owners. Last January he helped organize a protest outside the Aspen Court apartment complex on South Dahlia Street after owners of the building racked up 103 violations of the city housing code and were slow to fix the problems. When the lodger's-tax debate hit, Dunafon walked the city, knocking on doors and telling residents that the tariff was unfair to hotel owners.
In an article printed in last month's issue of the Glendale News, Dunafon is described as the ultimate candidate, one ready to end rampant corruption and return Glendale to "a good place to work, live and raise a family."
The uncredited article, which was actually written by Tea Party member and Dunafon chum Jerry Peters, claims that Dunafon "is a self-made businessman who has excelled at all levels including sports, music, art, and business. He was a star athlete in high school and college and was a free agent with the Denver Broncos until training camp injuries ended his hopes of a professional football career."
But according to the All-Time roster maintained by the Denver Broncos Football Club, Michael Dunafon was never a "free agent" with the team. Dunafon says he signed a contract with the Broncos for $18,000 and was cut after he dropped a single pass in a preseason game against the Detroit Lions. "I was one of the last guys to get cut," he adds. It's impossible to verify that Dunafon participated in training camp, however, since the Broncos don't keep records on training-camp hopefuls.
Dunafon most recently served as president of Commonwealth Telecommunications Inc., a company that claimed Chapter 7 liquidation last year. Dunafon says the bankruptcy was the fault of a larger corporation with which he was doing business. "When one guy goes down that is bigger than you are, you go down with him," he explains. Now he sells Internet bandwidth to foreign countries.
Despite the Glendale News article's insistence that Debbie Matthews is Dunafon's wife, the couple does not have a marriage license.
Since he announced his candidacy, Dunafon's arrest record has also come to light. He has been arrested twice, both times for assault. The first time was in 1973, when he was a football player with the University of Northern Colorado and a brawl broke out between his teammates and players from a rival squad. "The city later learned they had the wrong guy," Dunafon claims, insisting he was the only person arrested. Once police officers learned of their mistake, "they made me sign a waiver saying that I wouldn't sue the city."
His second arrest came in 1996, while he and Matthews were out for an evening in lower downtown. He and Matthews were merely "engaging in a little horseplay, but some people thought we were fighting," he says, then adds, "but no one is going to believe you when that's the case, though." After five guys surrounded him and one of them interfered, Dunafon hit the man, who later sued him. Dunafon believes he was targeted: "The guy was a gold-digger." In recognition of his assault record, Dunafon admits his close buddies teasingly call him "Thumper."
"He wears it like a badge of honor," Larsen says.
Dunafon's true residence is also open to question. He co-owns the Glendale townhouse with Matthews but says he keeps multiple residences and has chosen Glendale as his "permanent residence," spending up to four nights a week there. Dunafon isn't concerned about the appearance that he lives outside the community he wants to represent. "We just had a mayor right now that hasn't been here in six months," he says, referring to the fact that Rice recently spent half a year at the U.S. Army National Guard command school in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. "Americans are mobile people," Dunafon adds.
Dunafon will challenge Rice for the mayor's position. And although so far no one is running for the three open council spots, Dunafon says a new slate of Tea Party members will soon be in place.
"If they do win," Larsen predicts, "the staff here will be in a constant state of paralysis. If the Tea Party would win, they would replace competent employees with the usual suspects -- their drinking buddies. From the point of the view of the staff, this is an enormous election."
Dunafon doesn't envision losing. Just look at what the Tea Party has done for Glendale, he says. "Before, citizens would walk out of council meetings shaking their heads. But now the chamber is full of citizens participating in the American system of government. They weren't there before. People," Dunafon emphasizes, "are participating in their government."
City manager Larsen still participates in the twice-monthly council meetings that are known around town as "The Tuesday Night Fights." He says he never intends to engage in another "civilized conversation" with Dunafon or Bonniwell -- inside or outside of Glendale. "They are on the cusp of overthrowing Glendale," Larsen says, "like we're some sort of banana republic." But regardless of who wins in April, he doubts Riverwalk will become a reality -- the Tea Party members are too likely to pursue their own interests than pull together on a project, Larsen says. They could wrangle the stretch of land into years of costly court battles, stalling any development while Denver pursues its plans for the creek. "The best they could ever do," Larsen says, "is cost Glendale a lot of money in litigation and judgments."
To date, the City of Glendale has spent nearly $300,000 on legal fees and settlements related to the emergency moratorium and development of the creek; last year the city budget had earmarked $75,000 for anticipated legal costs. "The extreme irony is that they could bankrupt this city, and this city could lose its autonomy, in which case it would become part of Arapahoe County," Larsen says. "They could do it two ways: by betting the ranch and losing, or through rampant mismanagement."
Although he can't predict his future past the April election, Larsen says he feels obligated by the oath that he took to stay on and work until his rightful employer, the Glendale City Council, releases him. And in the meantime, he keeps his golf clubs at the ready.
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