Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Time's Up

Merry Christmas, Mayor Webb.

In the mail you'll find a check for $40 to cover the two parking tickets I picked up last week -- my gift from city employees eager to make up Denver's revenue shortfall. One was delivered at 9:05 a.m. (my meeting ran ten minutes past a quarter) on a weekday in the 1100 block of Acoma Street, where parking management trucks are circling like sharks these days. (The boot truck surfaced there just minutes ago, apparently on leave from my neighborhood, where it appears more often than the postman. "Last week I got someone for $1,300," reported the happy bootman.) The second was a holiday present handed out in LoDo early on a Sunday morning, when the only cars in sight huddle around Dixons restaurant -- as do the city's VCAs (that's Vehicle Control Agents, for those less intimately acquainted with them than I).

This holiday season, the city is offering free parking downtown -- after 6 p.m. "I can't even keep track of when it's free and when it's not," says Lee Goodfriend, a Dixons owner who's been active in the city's parking discussions. "We put it in our reservations book." And that book is right by the rolls of quarters that Dixons keeps at the hostess stand. Few Sunday brunchers arrive downtown packing twelve quarters, which is what it now takes to buy two hours of "world-class" parking ("That's the Ticket," December 12).

"If we need the money, why are we giving free parking?" asks Goodfriend. "I would rather have kept the meters down. It would be good to keep them reasonable all of the time."

Goodfriend and other downtown business owners reluctantly agreed to the parking-rate hike after the city promised to install pay stations in LoDo like those along Larimer Square, which take credit cards and issue parking receipts that drivers can put on their windshields. This summer, a similar plan was devised for the congested, and meter-free, Cherry Creek North shopping area. But despite strong support from neighbors and businesspeople -- the Cherry Creek business district was willing to buy the stations for the city and get paid off through new parking revenues -- that proposal has been tabled somewhere in the mayor's office. And last month, the city finally confessed that those LoDo pay stations would not be installed, either, because "the city found itself facing a budget shortfall greater than anticipated in response to declining sales revenues." The bad news came in a letter from Robert Casteneda, deputy manager of the Department of Public Works, who'd been put in charge of the department's parking management division in June, shortly before $97,000-a-year parking director John Oglesby was put on paid leave pending an independent audit of the division.

Mayor Webb, feel free to use my $40 to pay for one-thousandth of that $38,000 KPMG audit, first discussed in February, authorized by Public Works manager Stephanie Foote in May, mysteriously dated September 17 (even though its contents include events subsequent to that date) and finally released three months later. In the interim, of course, City Auditor Don Mares turned in his own independent audit of the division, outlining numerous questionable activities; two days later, Oglesby resigned. (His paid leave had already stretched to almost three times the original thirty days.) A few weeks later, Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter reported on his own investigation, noting that while the division had behaved badly, Oglesby could not be charged criminally because his actions were authorized by his superiors, and so "criminal prosecution is not only inappropriate, but impossible."

Unless, of course, Ritter wants to read the first page of the Denver City Charter, which states that "violation of any provision of this charter for which no punishment has been provided therein shall be considered a misdemeanor and shall be prosecuted by the City Attorney."

But at this point, the city attorney -- or any other living, breathing city official -- might want to direct his attention to the division that Oglesby left behind six months ago, which does not appear to be much better off today...and can no longer fall back on blaming its former director. Oglesby wasn't the only problem at parking, KPMG found; Public Works senior staff -- staffers who are still there -- had failed to provide "appropriate oversight," including the required annual reviews of Oglesby's performance. The independent firm cited poor communication within the division and worse communication with the public. (Pay stations, anyone?) For example, KPMG said, while a smaller city that issues one-fourth as many tickets as Denver does has five customer-service reps to deal with parking complaints, Denver has exactly one.

Back in March, when the uproar over Oglesby's "world-class" parking plans peaked, the city established a task force of city officials (Oglesby most definitely not among them), residents and businesspeople. The group came up with 42 recommendations, the division agreed to implement forty, and "most are complete," the audit reported. Apparently, KPMG failed to stop by Cherry Creek or LoDo.

The task force was just a first step toward atoning for past sins, however. "Without an action plan to implement the recommendations of this report," KPMG warned, "the Division will remain in its present state." But since it took several months -- and several nosy phone calls from me -- for the city simply to release that report, don't look for much action to its parking plan.

Here's $40, Mayor Webb: How about giving someone the boot?

Coffee Plot

City workers have had some difficulties adjusting to life in the sumptuous, $132 million Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building. Along with the shiny new cubicles came a matched set of shiny new rules: no plants, no pictures (unless they're hung in an appropriate manner by building management), no access after 6 p.m. (that dictate has been removed), no visiting vendors (that one hasn't).

So while the Milagro Burrito Company still delivers to the City and County Building every day, breakfast-burrito addicts assigned to the Webb Mahal must head out to the sidewalk to get a fix. Milagro was told that the cafeteria going into the building has an exclusive deal. Says one burrito slinger: "It seems like the city wants a bite out of everything." That would include the snack business ruled in this town by Mountain Man, a success story out of Parker that peddles its wares at offices across the metro area -- but not in the Wellington E. Webb building. The Mountain Man distributor whose route includes that address (201 West Colfax Avenue) now must display her candy, nuts, dried fruit and gifts in the parking lot.

But the coffee is what got people really steaming.

Last month, City Auditor Don Mares, whose independent agency moved into Webbville this fall, received a letter from Wayne Cauthen, Mayor Webb's chief of staff: "Prior to opening the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building, the City established a user's group that developed occupancy policies for the new building. One of those adopted policies prohibits coffeepots in the building. This is a departure from years of practice in other City buildings. To ease the transition and to ensure that employees would continue to have coffee, the City negotiated with Baroness Coffee, the vendor selected to operate a retail coffee shop on the first floor, to also provide coffee service throughout the building. Every effort was made to price the coffee at the lowest amount necessary to cover the vendor's expenses while providing them with a reasonable profit. Baroness, a small, minority-owned business, incurred substantial debt to purchase vending machines for this building." All aboard the crony express!

The problem? "We have been advised that another firm has placed coffee vending machines in the areas occupied by the Auditor's Office," Cauthen noted sternly.

Well, not exactly. Mares has been providing coffee -- free coffee -- for his staff since 1996, contracting with a coffee service that moved with the auditor's office to its new home on the seventh floor. "Ours is not a vending machine," explains spokeswoman Cher Roybal Haavind. "There's no money taken in." There's just lots of coffee pouring out of thermoses, which the service provides.

"Don thinks it's an added value to employees here," she adds. "It's a benefit. And it's the little things that add up big."

So Chip Spreyer, deputy auditor, poured it on in his November 21 response to Cauthen. "Because of your letter, we have read through the [Baroness] contract thoroughly looking for any inconsistencies that you may have perceived," he wrote. "We cannot find them. Would you be so kind as to provide us with a citation to the clause or section that we may have inadvertently transgressed?"

Spreyer is still waiting for Cauthen to clue him in.

In the meantime, he checked with Dean Speirs, the city attorney who drafted the agreement, and learned that the Baroness contract contains no exclusivity clause. In fact, its language is quite broad: "The concessionaire acknowledges the city fully retains the right to provide facilities and services for making available to its employees and to the general public food products, coffee and other beverages and other goods and services, whether such facilities and services are provided directly by the city itself or through its separate contractors, licenses or other providers."

So for now, the coffee's on at Mares's place.

Now, about that breakfast burrito...

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun