Longmont Mayor Election analysis

The 2009 Longmont Election had four council seats up for grabs, including the office of Mayor.  Running for re-election was long time councilmember and one term mayor, Roger Lange.  There was some chatter that he couldn’t run for mayor due to term limits, but it didn’t get much traction, I never gave it much credit, and it became a moot point as it turns out.  Initially, Dan Benavidez announced he was running, but dropped out before collecting petitions.  Jeff Thompson did collect enough signatures, ran for a short while, but then also dropped out of the race.  Eventually, the race boiled down to two candidates, Roger Lange and late into the race was political newcomer Bryan Baum. Continue reading…

Longmont At-Large Election analysis

There were two city council seats up for grabs in the 2009 Longmont At-Large race.  Everyone in the city was eligible to vote in this race, and got to pick two candidates.  Those candidates were: Gabe Santos (Incumbent At-Large councilmember), Alex Sammoury, Bill Van Dusen, Kaye Fissinger, and Ed Dloughy.  The two candidates who received the most votes were elected.  The final tally came out like this:

Santos        11,048  36.38%
Sammoury   8,149  26.83%
Van Dusen    5,408  17.81%
Fissinger        4,832  15.91%
Dloughy            934  3.08% Continue reading…

2007 Progressive experiment has failed

Here is my Guest editorial that ran in the Tuesday October 27, 2009 Times-Call.  I didn’t title this piece, but they did:
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Vote Out The Progressives
The “2007 Progressive Experiment” in Longmont has failed.  At least it’s been entertaining to watch and write about, but to the detriment of the city as a whole.  We can’t say we didn’t give it a try, but this regressive Progressive majority on city council has proven to be a real loser of an idea and voters need to undo the mistake of 2007.To refresh memories, in 2007 Longmont had a block of candidates take over the majority of city council.  This majority includes Sean McCoy, Brian Hansen, Sarah Levison, and Karen Benker – who actually was soundly defeated in her quest for Mayor, but unfortunately remained in office.  Mr. Hansen and Ms. Levison squeaked in with less than a majority and mostly due to third candidates who split the vote.  Mr. McCoy won by a majority, but Ms. Benker lost by a majority.Even to the bloc’s most strident supporters, they must agree these have been two very divisive and controversial years.  They have also been two very unproductive years rife with costly lawsuits, dwindling tax revenues, and furloughed city employees.  Our council meetings are often 4 hour marathons that end with bickering and indecision.  Procrastination is their credo.

Therefore, a clean sweep and removal of all council members in office prior to 2008 needs to occur.  Mary Blue is retiring, which is a shame as she’s been an exception and an exemplary representative.  Gabe Santo’s joined the council in January 2008 and has often been the sole dissenting vote on some of the bloc’s more ridiculous maneuvers – and deserves to be retained in his at-large seat.

Unfortunately, Council members McCoy, Hansen, and Levison are not up for re-election.  But they can be dealt with in 2 years, or sooner via recall.  Candidates Fissinger, Benker, and Van Dusen are more of the same of the failed regressive Progressive majority we now find ourselves saddled with.  Voters should learn from past mistakes and not repeat them with these candidates.

Mayor Lange, who I respect, admire, and have always supported and voted for in every race he’s even run, has tilted one too many times in favor of this failed bloc.  The denied motion and second (from Santos and Blue, respectively) to end the losing battle with Firestone and LifeBridge was the straw that broke the camels back for me and many other citizens.  When Firestone came to Longmont with an offer of the land that would meet Longmont’s request for this so-called buffer, which in reality is a red herring that doesn’t now nor will ever exist, Mayor Lange and this council turned them away, proving to me this was nothing more than an expensive turf war and an attempt to financially bleed Firestone and LifeBridge.  I’m not a member of that church or a resident of Firestone, but this act was appalling.

Unlike other council members who have been downright rude to me in the presence of my children, Mayor Lange has indelibly left a positive impression on one of my sons to which we are eternally grateful.  While I can’t support him in this race for the other reasons above, I will also not engage in mudslinging or negative attacks that might benefit his opponent, Bryan Baum, who I support.

The same cannot be said for Karen Benker.  Some cities have elected donkeys, dogs, or hoboes to city council.  I would back such a candidate in opposition to Ms. Benker.  Alright, my tongue is slightly planted “in cheek” with that comment, but the actual sentiment is not too far off.  Ms. Benker is basically the leader of the bloc, and as such, sets the tone for the bitter divisiveness the bloc embodies.  A vote for her is a vote for the failed last two years.  About the only thing Ms. Benker has on Katie Witt is her so-called experience.  But this experience has not resulted in a better outcome for the citizens of Longmont.

I would also argue Ms. Benker’s “experience” when she was Ms. Witt’s age was probably similar to Ms. Witt’s now.  Everybody has to start somewhere.  Incumbency and a self-inflated resume shouldn’t be the main deciding factor in who’s more fit to serve.  Sometimes a fresh outlook and differing life experiences breathe new life into an otherwise stale and stagnant situation.  Unfortunately, this current council majority is worse than stagnation, it’s actually regressing.

So consider the past and the future when you cast your vote, and not some selfish allegiance of what you think a candidate is or isn’t.  And there’s really no good reason not to vote, please exercise this right.

LA026: Police & firefighter unionization, Brandon Shaffer no friend to voters, and Longmont becoming laughing stock

October 20, 2008 Show

Oxygen by Dusty Hughes

Longmont 2A – Collective bargaining of police and fire employees Times-Call Editorial rebuttal by Mike Violette/CO FOP  www.longmontpolice.com Continue reading…

In The Pocket?

Something I’ve put off commenting about is brewing under the surface and hinted at in various places in the Times-Call and the internet. Were four councilmembers (Benker, Hansen, McCoy, and Levison) bought and paid for by special interests?

Much was made of candidate, now councilmember, Gabe Santos receiving a contribution of $5,000 by the Longmont Association of Realtors in January, 2008. As far as I can tell, I haven’t seen any proposed ordinances or resolutions brought forward in the name of this organization, so obviously there’s not been a vote. Nevermind, it takes more than a lone vote on council to pass such a thing.

On the other hand, there has been a major issue brought forward that could change our city charter and at the very least will cost the city thousands of dollars in a special election: collective bargaining for certain police and fire employees. I advocated for this group in 2004, and am leaning towards voting their way once again this year, so this has nothing to do with pro or anti-union positions. As hard as it may be, put that aside for the sake of this discussion.

Let’s look at the hard numbers: Karen Benker received a $1,500 cash donation and a $266.75 endorsement advertisement from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Brian Hansen received a $500 cash donation and the same $266.75 ad buy. Sean McCoy received a $1,000 cash donation and the same $266.75 ad buy from the Longmont Police Officers Assocation (LPOA). Sarah Levison received a $1,000 cash donation from the LPOA, but I can’t find an ad buy. No other candidates received these donations, and I’ve been told all were interviewed. This is a grand total of $4,800.25.

Since this is not a partisan group (some would argue that point), like one of the political parties (we’re supposed to have a non-partisan electoral structure in Longmont), I don’t have too many issues with these donations. But when these same four councilmembers went after Gabe Santos for his contribution based on what might occur, perhaps they were thinking of what they might do with such a contribution, and now have done precisely that. They’ve proven their own case that money could corrupt city politics.

When the unionization concept was brought to council on first reading, these four didn’t much question the language, all four voted for it with little hesitation. The other three members of council (Lange, Blue, and Santos) had specific concerns and questions, and the players (FD/FD, city staff, attorneys) had meetings and hammered out something more palatable and something with a higher likelihood of voter approval. But Benker, McCoy, Hansen, and Levison had nothing to do with that, they liked it just the way it was. In a twisted way, the collective bargaining team just upped their odds by working on what the three dissenting votes had to say. Not the four they contributed to.

A big concern that’s been conveyed to me, and I agree, is that this vote may become a referendum on city council, these four members in particular. It’s not fair to our police and fire employees to be saddled with that. If that’s truly a concern amongst voters, especially those in favor of this collective bargaining, how about separating it out and just have a flat out recall of these four members?

Yeah, I know, fat chance and a little extreme. But I do have an easier alternative: each of these four councilmembers make $1,000 a month for the service they provide, and don’t get me wrong, as much as I tear into them (and previous councils as well, for those that have forgotten), they do put in a lot of their own time in their elected positions. I suggest, to avoid any suggestion of impropriety, and to truly help the police and fire employees they claim to support, that these four councilmembers forego enough of their stipend equal to these contributions and put it back into the General Fund.

This isn’t a pledge I expect them to take, but what a message it would send if they did. What political harm could it do? And if they’re adamantly opposed to this idea, you should ask why. It could help our fine police and fire employees, our hurting budget, and send a clear message that council is not for sale.

Mall-itics Pt. 3

Next up in the antics of some members of the Longmont City Council at the June 10th meeting is some of Sarah Levisons comments. This was some fairly agenda driven questioning of Panattoni’s Will Damrath.

It’s easy to spot agenda driven games like this when the answer is more or less ignored, and when an answer is given the questioner quickly moves on to another subject. I noticed much of this wasn’t covered in the Times-Call, but as usual you can see the video on the city’s website.

First, Ms. Levison compared the mall to Target in her “extraordinary cost” line of questioning. Mr. Damrath rightly pointed out that her analogy was flawed, that Target owned its own property, as in just one tenant, they are a large public company and Panattoni builds for tenants, where Target builds for itself. That being said, Mr. Damrath said Target could’ve applied and been eligible for a special metro district.

Next was the question of rent going up on tenants due to the Tax Increment Financing, or TIF. The answer was NO, that those taxes are paid in sales taxes by people who shop there. Shouldn’t Ms. Levison already know this?

Ms. Levison made the claim Panattoni only owns 24% of the 41 acres in question, based on some conversation with a Boulder County Assessor. Mr. Damrath said 5 separate LLC’s own that, which are made up of Panattoni employee’s or investors, in other words they control 100% of that land. Again, homework not done.

Ms. Levison asked how the racetrack configuration of the ring road helps the blight conditions. Mr. Damrath said there are legal agreements with the other land owners when it comes to that road and their access. On this subject, Sean McCoy asked why the traffic pattern is the same as it is now. I saw this map in the packet, anyone can tell the map he was looking at was the current configuration, which Mr. Damrath had to point out the obvious. How embarrassing.

This next part seems a little, well, dishonest, and City Manager Gordon Pedrow stepped in on this one. Ms. Levison was asking how much city staff time and resources this whole mall thing taking up. She should’ve stopped there, but went on and said the owners at the flour mill want to get moving on their project and want to have a ” shovel in the ground in November“, and asked if there is enough staff for two projects like this at once. Mr. Pedrow answered more or less that staff wouldn’t commit to something they couldn’t handle, but more to the point of the flour mill, that her comments were contrary to what the city is aware of. He said the city hasn’t had discussions that those owners are moving that rapidly. Ms. Levison didn’t linger on this topic long, as Mr. Pedrow basically questioned the “truthiness” of her claims. Since these so-called conversations between Ms. Levison and the flour mill owners are open record, I’m sure she can provide that information.

Then Ms. Levison called someone up to the podium about a “private conversation” they had about the malls “underlying financial viability” (sorry, didn’t catch the name). I got the distinct feeling he didn’t exactly answer the way she wanted. She was trying to make the point how risky this is, to which he answered that “there is business risk in every project. Metro districts to a large extent mitigate some of the developer risk, but can’t eliminate it, that is embedded with risk.” Sounds like she had some agenda driven questions for him before the council meeting, shouldn’t that be public record, too?

Are you getting the picture of this council’s habit of time wasting? This went on for almost 30 minutes. It’s fine to ask questions, but most of this should’ve already been known by Ms. Levison, and this was just a witch hunt anyway. The only honest statement I heard was ” at this point I don’t feel that I have full confidence that I have understanding of the complete process. It’s pretty complicated actually.”

On the “extraordinary need” question, Mary Blue made the point that people are leaving Longmont to shop and go to theatres. That Longmont is viewed as a “honkey tonk” town that can’t support a theater. This got some laughter, but the sad part is that it’s true and it was nice to see Ms. Blue sift through the others feeble attempts to cloud something that is so simple.

More City Council Buffoonery

Anyone happen to catch tonights Longmont City Council meeting? Once again the simple task of choosing applicants for advisory boards descending into utter nonsense. How hard is this?

For the board in question, there were 4 applicants, and 3 positions: 2 primary and 1 alternate. The deadline was somewhere around 10 days ago, as a clear answer was not given by the City Clerk of when this was. So if you, like me, looked at the City Council agenda that came out last Friday, and every Friday before each meeting, there were the applications of the nominees.

It’s been the opinion of more than a few that our new majority on council is cherry picking candidates for these appointments. One of the applicants put on his application that his neighbor, Councilmember Karen Benker, was who advised him of this spot. Hmmm, okay, we’ll let that go for now.

So, councilmembers had a few days to consider the 4 applicants. But at the council meeting, Sean McCoy lets it be known that he and Brian Hansen have submitted 2 applicants of their own, AFTER THE DEADLINE! I bet you can see where this is going.

Councilmember Mary Blue had recused herself prior to this as she had a family member in the list of applicants. Gabe Santos brought up the point that one time he had put in an application for a board after the deadline and there was no special rule change or consideration for him, and there not should be one for these two applicants. So they put it to a vote: should council suspend the rules of the application deadline for these two applicants. Here’s where I think City Attorney Clay Douglas made a mistake: while Councilmember Blue was recused from the vote involving her relative, she should NOT have been recused from her vote on this change of rules. Do you want to guess how this vote went? Yeahs: Benker, Levison, McCoy, and Hansen.

So, not only does this out of control bloc blatantly disregard the rules that have been in place for I’d guess a long time, they make it so they can vote on it, and pass this questionable procedure. And no, they didn’t vote to change an ordinance or any resolutions, you know, the stuff that makes the rules they’re supposed to follow. They just wormed their way around it. Very democratic.

Lastly, want to guess who made the cut for this board? One of the primary members was the aforementioned Benker-invited nominee, the other was one of these late and very questionable additions. Councilmembers had all of maybe a few minutes to look at their applications, if that. Note to some councilmembers: when some people say you’re doing a great job, maybe they’re not talking about YOU specifically.

Out Of Order

Something happened at the February 26, 2008 Longmont City Council meeting that so far has gone unreported, and is very troubling. A video of it can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeTDvIyK6WM

Let me set the stage, as the video alone may not explain it all. Late into the meeting around 10:30pm, the council was voting for members of various boards in the city. First, there was some discussion on the nominees, a motion, and a vote by a show of hands. When it was time for the Cable Trust Board, the eligibility of one of the nominees, Charlie Fellenbaum, was discussed followed by a motion by Councilmember Santos that Stephanie Baum be appointed to this board, followed by a second, then a call for a vote. Here’s where it got interesting.

Councilmembers Blue, Santos, Hansen, and Mayor Lange raised their hands, signaling a majority of council. Turn the volume up and you then hear Councilmember Benker saying ” NO“. As the camera changes angles, she’s clearly saying that towards Mr. Hansen, hand still in the air. Mayor Lange looks exasperated as he says ” Hey Karen?!” as she’s clearly out of order. Yet she just takes over the discussion, clearly angry over what just happened. She goes on to comment about Mr. Fellenbaum, who wasn’t the subject of the vote, and even claims he has ” more interest than the other candidate“! She ends her tantrum by throwing herself back towards her chair in disgust. Mayor Lange rightly points out that there was a motion, and a vote.

Hopefully most of you see what’s wrong here, but since I know some of you will defend some of these councilmembers no matter what, I guess I have to explain it. I don’t have my Roberts Rules of Order handy, but this was so blatantly out of line it’s not even funny. How often do you see councilmembers, during a vote, telling other councilmembers how to vote? Never for me. The Mayor is the chair of this committee, Karen Benker wasn’t recognized by the chair, the chair was making it clear with his words and body language that he was not thrilled with her behavior. Didn’t stop her though, did it?

So, was Brian Hansen expected to vote a certain way? It’s not inconceivable that he misheard Fellenbaum for Stephanie Baum. But what if he really meant to vote the way he did, who is Karen Benker to tell himNO“? I thought each member was independent? I haven’t harped on this ” Benker 4” or ” bloc of 4” since the election, figuring I’d evaluate each one separately. And some members of council have been making noise about the general public tearing into the new members. Do you want to know why? THIS is why. The point was just proven.

In a private letter to Brian Hansen, who is my ward’s councilmember, this is what I said about this so-called ‘bloc': ” The accusation and assumption (of a bloc) is a lack of independence by individual members, and a vote-by-committee agreement or arrangement. What transpired Tuesday night only reinforces that mindset.”

So what was reinforced? The opinion that, a) certain councilmembers pre-coordinate votes as a group, b) perhaps their nominee was a plant – who on council knows him? What were the circumstances of his nomination? I’ll leave it to someone else to connect the dots, and there are dots. c) Don’t cross the group or show independence without pre-coordinating that – or face the wrath, television cameras or not, and, d) parliamentary rules be damned, there’s an agenda to be pushed.

Personally, I’m getting pretty tired of councilmembers like Sean McCoy and his weekly insults (that now include the Times-Call and its TC-Line) and whining about citizens perceptions of the new council. Those perceptions now have some base in reality, as proven above. So please, tell me, with a straight face, that you don’t discuss as a group upcoming votes. That you think it’s alright to skirt the rules plenty of other councils have abided by. That it’s okay to tell other members how to vote during a meeting. This is a disgrace.

One thing I try to keep in mind, especially with my kids, is that it’s easy to remember the truth – there’s only one version of it. But when you are scheming behind the scenes, and there are a few people involved, it’s not as easy to keep your ducks in a row, now is it?

Meet The Bobbleheads!

Now for the lighter side of recent and upcoming events: As a former councilmember recently put it, there’s this ” new generation” of Longmonters. They really aren’t that new, or fresh (another word used by said writer), and some are downright frightening. Some aren’t even from or in Longmont – as pointed out by Councilmember Mary Blue in a recent meeting.

After getting the last council meeting of 2007 on DVD from the library, I have a better nickname for them: The Bobbleheads! Why, you may ask? Quite simple really, and pretty funny, too. On accident I had the disc running at fast speed, it was a riot!

You see, there’s this self-appointed group of complainers who feel empowered as they think they got a mandate on the last election. Nevermind, as previously proven, that their candidates actually did not get a majority of the vote, not even 47%. But that’s not a valid point, I guess. Anyway, they were out in force at a recent council meeting and figured they’d sit in front, that means being on camera. When one of them would say something, they’d all nod in agreement, and then look around to their new friends on council for validation. The cumulative result was something I rarely see at council meetings: COMEDY!

Of course, what was actually coming out of their mouths was anything but nice or respectful – unless of course they were addressing their new friends on council. The topper was at the end, four and half hours into the meeting, when one of them had the gall to rip into Mayor Lange for volunteering to be on some committee, basically saying that he couldn’t be trusted. Sometimes you just have to point out the obvious to some people, and he did, that no one else would volunteer for it! And that includes these clowns’ four friends on council. They were asked repeatedly, none would step up. So you get what you get.

I suspect that first meeting was the high point (or low point depending on your point of view) of their attendance, and since they didn’t get their way on leaving the Lifebridge Annexation on the ballot, the slow feeding-on-their-own frenzy I spoke of before should begin soon. Here’s a bonus: one of their own is running for council, Richard Juday. Just thought you’d like to know, that is if you planned on voting.

So if you Bobbleheads are thinking of utilizing this nickname, and I bet you wish you came up with it yourself, remember where you got it. Maybe if you spent less time running from action to action being ” over-reactionaries” (go ahead and use that, too), you could escape the groupthink and dream up something original. Yeah, I know, not likely. Enjoy.

Election’s Only The Beginning

There will be a special election in early 2008 in Longmont, we’re just not sure yet who or what will be on the ballot. If Roger Lange wins the Mayor seat, his ” at-large” seat goes up for grabs and Karen Benker remains the Ward 2 councilmember. This means more than likely the two candidates who didn’t win the “at-large” seat in November’s election will run for this seat. Not a bad deal, a second chance at winning a seat. So it’s possible that two candidates that go at each other very well could later be sitting next to each other in city council chambers.

On the other hand, if Karen Benker wins the Mayor seat, her Ward 2 seat needs to be filled by a special election. I don’t know if any of the at-large candidates actually live within Ward 2, but if they don’t, someone we don’t currently know of will have to hustle and get some signatures to run for it.

The other item is the Lifebridge Annexation question. The 10/17/07 Times-Call article may have left a few confused about what really happened in the most recent City Council meeting, hopefully as you read this or soon it will be a little more clear. They ” agreed” to put it to voters, but won’t actually ” vote” to put it on the ballot until October 23 or November 13. This may be just a small procedural issue, but if I’m reading past stories correctly about this, they may not necessarily vote YES to put it on the ballot. Then what happens?

I suspect they will vote to put it on the special election ballot, or expect pitchforks and torches at their doorstep. There always is the option of rescinding their earlier annexation vote and leaving it up the next council to handle it. On the surface this may seem a victory for the petition gatherers, as an election is not a sure winner. But in reality the new council may vote the same way, probably not 6-1, but 5-2 or 4-3 is very likely.

I’ll ask some of you to remove your rose colored glasses in your hoped-for election outcomes, and ponder this prediction. Here is the future (post special election) council: Lange (Mayor), Rawlins, Benker, Blue, Levison, and Santos. Ward 3 is too close to call, but even if McCoy wins, that’s not an anti-annexation friendly council. Of course this all changes if Benker becomes Mayor, but not by a lot. And it is just my prediction, which might not be worth the paper this is printed on.

Don’t be in a rush to cast that vote. Watch the candidate forum that is being played on Channel 3, visit the candidate’s websites and read their positions and platforms. Call or write them, see where they sit on issues important to you. Be suspicious of the ad pushing a ” block” of candidates, not saying you shouldn’t vote for them, but beware the ” package deal“. Unless you prefer someone else to do the thinking for you.