Candidate Forum reveals contrast in governing styles.

In an unlikely event sponsored by a partisan moderator, candidates showed that civility, recently missing in Salida city government, is possible.  A candidate’s forum was held at the Salida Community Center on Friday, October 20, 2017.  The moderator was on the campaign staff of the incumbent mayor who is running for reelection with a block of former and current council members.  All candidates and the public were invited to attend and participate.  Two opponents of the sponsoring candidates, one for mayor and one for city council, attended and joined the panel, while a few dozen citizens were in the audience.

The moderator started the event by alluding to recent sessions of City Council.  In one those sessions, Councilwoman Eileen Rogers had been silenced by the incumbent mayor. In a subsequent session, the mayor suspended rules of decorum, whereupon retiring incumbent councilman Hal Brown cited the rule suspension in his defense when he was called upon for making “personal, impertinent or slanderous remarks” against Councilwoman Rogers that would have violated the suspended rule.

As the moderator continued with her remarks, the audience began to speak up, asking in essence that they hear from the candidates about issues rather than listen to the moderator’s agenda.  Some in the audience became a little loud as the moderator continued.  At that point, the challenging mayoral candidate, even though in a potentially hostile environment sponsored by his opponents, essentially took charge of the situation, quieted the audience and redirected the discussion to substantive issues.  The two hour event then proceed with the candidates engaging in polite dialog addressing issues led by questions from the audience.  This was in dramatic contrast to the two previous city council meetings, one of October 3, 2017 and one of October 17, 2017 (YouTube Video @ 1:13:30 to 2:08:00), over which the mayor presided.

The candidate forum was recorded on video by its sponsors. If the video is made public in it’s entirety and unedited, it should be watched by all as an example of how civility can be restored to Salida’s government.

Salida City budget under the Mayor’s leadership doesn’t safeguard taxpayers.

Under the leadership of Salida’s current mayor, council approved spending 2.5 million dollars more than the revenue projected for the year in the general fund.  This is shown in the last budget adopted by the City, the 2017 Budget that is on the City’s website, showing the Deficiency of Revenues Under Expenditures for the year 2017 at $2,558,450 (at the top of pdf page 14, budget general fund page 5).  The budget also shows that across all but two small funds, the city is spending more than it has.  In the proposed 2018 budget, the deficiency is distributed across more than one fund and partially into 2018, leaving a 1.15 million dollar deficiency in the general fund. The deficiency is largely due to over-budgeting for streets, which the City Administrator says is unsustainable. According to the City’s auditing firm, a number of “internal control deficiencies” that required correction occurred following the loss of the City Finance Director in early 2016. (See YouTube Video of 10/17/2016 Council meeting at 0:29 to 0:47).

Continue reading “Salida City budget under the Mayor’s leadership doesn’t safeguard taxpayers.”

Does the Mayor know how much he is paying the City Attorney?

In his campaign speeches, the mayor continuously states:  That, “this year, our attorney has only cost us $36,000.”  (YouTube Video of Candidate Forum, 10/18/2017, @ 2:03:27).  But the bills paid log on the City’s website shows the following payments to the City Attorney, “The Conundrum Group” for 2017, January through August:

January                $46,079.89

February              $12,414.01

April                     $27,856.86

May                      $22,174.15

June                      $41,469.93

July                       $40,653.73

YTD Total           $190,648.57*

The bills paid lag the bills sent by about one month.

* The bills paid YTD, as posted on the city’s website, are only through August, 2017.  The Mountain Mail of October 19, 2017, reports that the total paid Kahn’s firm, The Conundrum Group, according to a spreadsheet provided by the City, is $249,971.55, year to date. That is exactly the total of the bills we reported dated 12/25/2016 through 8/10/2017.  It does not include the bill dated 9/5/2017, or any received by the City after that.  It includes no charges for services performed since July.  The Mountain Mail article also states an amount paid by the City to special counsel Lee Phillips, which is $34,785.08. Perhaps that is what the mayor was referring to in his campaign speeches.

Councilmember’s Guest Opinion in TMM reveals political enemies list at City Hall

After being prevented by Mayor LiVecchi from giving her Elected Official’s Report at the October 4, 2017, City Council Meeting (see previous post), Councilwoman Eileen Rogers was afforded the opportunity on October 11th to finish her statement in a Guest Column in The Mountain Mail.  In her guest column, she revealed that, in reading the detailed bills of City Attorney, Ben Kahn, she learned he was directed by the mayor to investigate Salida citizens who express opinions with which the mayor disagreed.

It seems that in one matter called “No. 00272-City of Salida: Elected Official Public Statements” the city attorney’s bills disclosed he was paid $9,767.23 over six months to investigate Councilmembers Rogers and Brown-Kovacic, where he “scoured The Mountain Mail and the internet searching for anything suspicious. Our spoken and written words were closely examined, looking for ‘false public statements and admissions against city interests, public misinformation campaign and fake news promulgation by public officials.’”

Those bills also revealed that “Mayor LiVecchi also directed Mr. Kahn to scrutinize a large number of Salida citizens who have spoken during council meetings, written letters to the editor in The Mountain Mail, published comments on the internet and/or filed requests for copies of official documents using a CORA, the Colorado Open Records Act requests application.”

Mayor authorizes over-payment of $18,906.28 to City Attorney

In the controversy over Mayor Jim LiVecchi’s exclusive control of the City Attorney, the Mayor’s approval of legal bills, merely from a list and without reading the bills themselves, has been called into question. (See posts below.) As expected, this practice not only omits oversight of the City Attorney, but invites costly errors. A review of public records shows that this has indeed been the result.

In August 2017, the City Attorney submitted his bills that included charges through July.  Individual bills (not publicly available) as well as a bill summary dated 8/11/2017, were sent by the City Attorney to the mayor who, according to his practice, files them only on his personal laptop computer, and not on the City’s server for others who might understand them to see. It is not publicly known whether the mayor ever looked at the detailed individual bills, but he did approve and initial individual charges on the bill summary and authorized payment to the City Attorney of $18,906.28.

Then in September 2017 another bill summary dated 9/5/2017 for items totaling $31,238.46 was received by the mayor along with three detailed bills dated 9/1/2017 totaling $12,328.18. The 22 other matters on the summary seemed to lack detailed bills. These undocumented other matters happened to total $18,906.28, the exact amount approved by the mayor for payment to the City Attorney in the previous month. A look at the 9/5/17 bill summary does show that these other items were dated one month earlier than the three documented items. Comparing the two summaries shows that they were in fact duplicates of the charges already approved for payment by the mayor in the previous month. Nonetheless, the mayor approved them again, authorizing payment to the City Attorney of another $31,238.46 when only due $12,328.18 was due, which would be an over-payment of $18,906.28.

And another point: Why has the City Attorney not yet billed for work done since July?

Colorado Central Magazine editorial sums up major issues of Salida Council campaign

Colorado Central Magazine editorial sums up major issues of Salida Council campaign.

In a thoughtful editorial, Colorado Central Magazine editor Mike Rosso illuminates the current political situation in Salida from the point of view of one who is not a native, but has been here longer than most of the rest of us. Rather than quote him, we present, in full, his editorial from the October 2017 issue of Colorado Central Magazine.

Email disclosed by City in CORA suit raises questions

On Mayor Jim LiVecchi’s reelection campaign website, he blames $149,000, or about 1/3rd of the City of Salida’s record city attorney bills, on “Frivolous Costly Lawsuits”. The mayor’s website also posts depositions from one of those lawsuits, District Court Case No. 2016CV030028. One deposition, on page 30, refers to Exhibit 2, a document placed in the public court record of by the Salida city attorney. The document was identified in an affidavit by City Clerk Betty Schwitzer as “an authentic, complete and accurate copy of the one and only document responsive to the Bomer request that is an ‘email … [f]rom Mayor LiVecchi to City Finance Director Jan Schmidt, dated April 9th, 2016 at 5:26 PM.’” That email, as obtained from the public records of the District Court, raises a number of questions regarding the decision making process of the City; such questions as:

Why didn’t the City provide this email in response to the CORA request, resulting in no lawsuit costs at all?

What is in this document that gives the City a legal right to withhold it from the public?

What other reason might the City have to conceal the information in these emails from the public?

Did the City not want the public to know that the mayor was not following the City’s established process for approving city attorney bills for payment, but was initiating an opaque process for payments to the city attorney that continues to this day?

Did the City not want the public to see the mayor’s discourteous personal criticism of a city department head, a practice that has been blamed for the decimation of the city administration?

Did the City not want the public to see that the city attorney, from the first month of his employment, had opened an adversarial privileged matter, #173, against the city administrator?

Was the tone and content of the mayor’s email simply too embarrassing?

Should other representations and characterizations on the mayor’s website be checked out?

TMM LTE Exchange Highlights Mayor’s Performance at Mediation

An exchange of Letters to the Editor between Lorene Farney and Kari Mills in The Mountain Mail has highlighted an incident of last December where the Salida Mayor, Jim LiVecchi, walked out of a mediation session in the NRCDC/City/TABOR lawsuit that was pending in District Court.  The incident, reported in the Mountain Mail, helps settle the issue raised in the LTEs.  Follow the links for information on the controversy.  We covered the background of the lawsuit elsewhere.