Springs' secret dealings bring out 'malcontents'

By Leslie Jorgensen

COLORADO SPRINGS — The city of Colorado Springs is battling not only to keep the United States Olympic Committee anchored in the community where it has been for 25 years — it’s also fighting a public perception that it hides information from the public.

The city has suffered a barrage of criticism for having gone behind closed doors to structure the original deal to secure the USOC. In addition, the city’s ethics commission is conducting a secret investigation into a complaint that Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera behaved unethically as a key negotiator in the deal that soured.

Assistant City Manager Mike Anderson forecasted that the Colorado Springs City Council finally would hear details this week of a new deal to entice the USOC to keep its headquarters and training center in Colorado Springs.

Details of the economic development agreement, Anderson said, would be revealed in an executive session — outside of public earshot — at the July 13 City Council meeting.

Apparently, Anderson didn’t feel the hot wind of the public protest against the city’s covert conduct.

As it turned out, the deal wasn’t ready for the council’s consideration. When it is, however, several council members are demanding that it be aired in a public forum.

Earlier this year, the USOC pulled out of the original deal with the city that awarded a $53 million contract to developer Ray Marshall and his limited liability partnership, LandCo. The secretly crafted deal — which originated in the fall of 2007 and was finalized in March 2008 — became mired in problems.

Marshall, whose business practices are being investigated by District Attorney Dan May’s office, filed a lawsuit against the city that remains unresolved.

Rivera, a key player in structuring both deals with the USOC, had also served as an investment counselor to Marshall and his limited liability partnerships until December 2007.

That relationship prompted Ron Johnson to file an ethics complaint against Rivera. The two-member ethics commission is investigating the complaint and will present the findings to the City Council — all in secret.

Anderson’s suggestion of a backroom session to review the new deal raised the dander of City Councilman Jerry Heimlicher.

“We have promised the public that it would be something that we will do in public — not behind closed doors,” said Heimlicher.

City Councilman Tom Gallagher agreed, saying that an open meeting to discuss the agreement would “circumvent public criticism.”

“There is an element of the constituency out there that is already preparing these arguments” against secrecy, said Gallagher.

“It’s important to be open about it. The sooner that that happens, then the sooner we can mitigate the real malcontents that are out there,” declared Gallagher, waving his hand.

“If you ignore them, they just get worse and grow and fester,” he continued. “I’d rather beat it with a penicillin shot and clean it up right away.”

“Malcontents” seems to be a catchall term for critics of the city.

Heimlicher was hammered in a recent editorial in The Gazette for lashing out against “malcontents and misfits” and the media.

“…I did call a group of citizens misfits and malcontents,” conceded Heimlicher in a letter published this week.

Heimlicher clarified that the comment was directed at bloggers — not limited government advocates.

“They make allegations, perform regular character assassinations and generally criticize while offering no constructive advice,” he said.

“As far as words popping out of my mouth based on what I am thinking, I do enforce a cooling-off period on myself on most issues before I speak,” said Heimlicher. “…I am sick and tired of politicians and community leaders carefully crafting their comments so they can be politically correct and not offend anyone.”

One of those malcontents might be Johnson, who filed the ethics complaint against Rivera. Johnson had sent a copy of the complaint to Heimlicher, the councilman in his district.

The complaint provoked Heimlicher to pop an e-mail off to Johnson.

“Mr. Johnson, it is a strange way you are trying to make your point. If you have a valid complaint, then produce the information to the ethics committee and be prepared to produce what you have indicated exists,” said Heimlicher regarding documentation to support the complaint.

“…If the Mayor is not guilty of your beliefs, then you have damaged a person with rumor and alleged evidence. If he is guilty, let the system determine that in a factual manner.

“…I have no idea why you are copying me on all of your notes and I demand that you stop it,” chastised Heimlicher. “Put up or shut up!”

Johnson shot back, “…My motive is to expose a conflict of interest you and the other Council members failed to investigate in your zeal for securing a pledge from the USOC.”

“…I believe that when you and others seek public (office) you stand ready to accept the fact that many of your actions will also become public,” he said.

“Perhaps it is just hard for you and others to admit that a big mistake was made, and that you intend for the price of that mistake to be borne by the taxpayers,” concluded Johnson, alluding to the cost of settling the lawsuit with Marshall and structuring a new deal.

How concerned is the City Council about countering the closed-door image? It seems even semantics have become prickly.

During Anderson’s briefing, he said that the “finalized” economic development agreement would be ironed out with the USOC and then given to the City Council for review.

“What we’re waiting on is not necessarily a finalized agreement with no potential changes,” cautioned Councilwoman Jan Martin.

Anderson said he’d call it a “final draft.”

“Coordinated draft,” suggested Vice Mayor Larry Small. “Because then we take away any implication that it is, in any sense of the matter, finalized.”

It’s not clear what the agreement will be called — but it won’t include the word, “finalized.”

Heimlicher complained that reporters and a contractor working on one of the USOC building projects seemed to know more about the deal than he and other council members.

“I heard that the settlement of the lawsuit is a few days away from a contractor,” he said, adding that an unnamed council member had told reporters several weeks ago that the new deal with the USOC would be ready by mid-July.

“I’ve been very cautious every time I talk to them — I never commit to saying that it’s days away,” said Rivera, who serves on the city’s negotiation team, which also includes Anderson, City Councilman Scott Hente and City Attorney Pat Kelly.

Rivera and Small independently told reporters last month that the target date for a proposal was June 30. Anderson said City Council would review the finalized draft approved by USOC on July 15.

Meanwhile, rumors abound that the new deal might retain Marshall to complete construction of the USOC headquarters at 27 S. Tejon St. in downtown Colorado Springs and hire another contractor to make $16 million in improvements at the Olympic Training Center located on Union Boulevard.

A council member said the $16 million price tag might increase because the city negotiators didn’t know the infrastructure on the property — the site of the old Ent Air Force Base — has decayed and needs significant improvement.

The existing two-story building on Tejon Street was owned by Marshall. The previous deal allowed Marshall to keep the deed to the two lower level floors — and deed the newly constructed four upper levels to a city entity, which would rent that space to the USOC for a nominal fee.

“That’s a complicated issue,” said a City Council member.

Adding to the complications are liens filed against LandCo for unpaid work on the building. Mechanic’s liens have been filed by Innovar Environmental Inc. of Littleton, Shavano Land Survey Inc. of Colorado Springs, and OZ Architecture of Boulder. The architectural firm claims it’s owed $185,498 in compensation for designs and plans delivered years ago to expand the building at 27 S. Tejon St.

Assistant City Manager Anderson said 12 attorneys are working on various settlement agreements and on the new USOC deal.

“The resolution of this problem is very complex,” said Anderson. “It’s a very complex problem that obviously requires very complex solutions.”