Longmont and Thistle see “the light”

The Times-Call ran a story on April 22 by Tony Kindelspire with the following headline: “Thistle corrects $38 million error, Blog post brought nonprofit’s mistake to light of city”. It’s worth reading, including the comments and further questions in the comment section.

I’m glad Thistle and the City of Longmont were more responsive after my initial questions and subsequent story, but they really should’ve been right off the bat. Why does it take public pressure and an outside, non-Longmont staffer to get the story straight from them? I’ve heard second hand how Thistle reacted to these questions, and know first hand how the city reacted, and I was not impressed. What it takes to get the truth of the matter from these entities should bother citizens.

Turn of events
First, an Open Records request was made, which was denied, followed by questions of why. Then Thistles records were requested directly from them, they said they were going to use the full 30 days allowed for them to respond. When requested in person (which means they must provide them immediately or within the same day) they said they were filing an extension with the IRS, and now have until May 15th. Meanwhile, at the City level, the dodging at two different offices did not instill confidence. I asked the question if City Council could “declassify” this document (the audit) or make it non-confidential so the public could see it. The response I got was “As City Attorney, I cannot give legal advice to third parties.” City Council is a third party? I wasn’t requesting or in need of legal advice myself.

Fishy financials
But now, the negative $23 million has morphed in to a positive $15 million, that’s quite a swing, and quite a mistake. As of this writing the original document showing the negative number remains on the Secretary of State’s website, and now there is an amended one. This was filed back in September 2008 which was when their fiscal year ended. The annual financial statement is what needs to be looked in to, and with Thistle saying they filed an extension with the IRS effective April 15th makes one wonder if they’re confusing their year end report with their tax documents. Unless of course they secured $38 million in the last 6 months, which seems impossible to believe with the economy the way it is. Also, consider the information at this link from the year before when they showed a net loss of $33,514 and a fund balance of negative $31,910.

City and Thistle stumble
The Times-Call story said “The city hired its own outside accountant to review Thistle’s financial statements, according to city finance director Jim Golden.” So this was not a salaried city staff employee, which should have made this document even more open to the public.

Also in the story: “The information posted was inaccurate, and I didn’t oversee it as well as I should have,” (Thistle CEO Mary) Roosevelt said Tuesday. “And when I became aware of it, we corrected it immediately.” This “inaccurate” report was filed over 6 months ago. This is not a recent development, although Ms. Roosevelt’s knowledge of it is. That in itself should pose some questions about this organization: If you’re involved in a project that will get public scrutiny, especially the kinds of questions like “can you deliver on a project”, when you’re asking for the City of Longmont to fork over money and land exceeding $9 million – would you be totally unaware of a $38 million dollar error with the Secretary of State?

And city staff should question why when asked for information like this that they initially resorted to dodging and finding reasons not to answer the question. They knew they hired an outside source to look in to Thistle, that should have ended the Open Records debate right there. They should have known Thistle filed the same report with the city’s housing authority, also making it open to the public.

All that ends well(?)
If Thistle’s financials are sound and they can be counted on to complete the proposed project, great. I hope the situation is not as fishy as it still appears and we’re not left holding the bag if things go bad. This is not about Downtown, work-force housing, or mixed used development – although I’m sure some readers incorrectly came to that conclusion with this story. It’s about fairness (think Panattoni), transparency (Thistle and the City’s failure at it), learning from past mistakes (previous discontinued project and FasTracks situation) – and not having to have to say in a few years “how did we miss the warning signs?”

No excuses.

What is the City of Longmont hiding?


The City of Longmont is hiding something from its citizens to protect a “favored” client: Thistle Community Housing, who has proposed to partner with the Longmont Downtown Development Authority (LDDA) on a mixed-use project in downtown Longmont . The City Council needs to explain why it’s considering giving millions in taxpayer dollars to a non-profit developer with potentially serious financial problems. And the city’s financial director needs to explain why he’s keeping this developer’s financial problems a secret.

Thistle wants $9 million from the city
According to a March 26 Times-Call story, LDDA wanted more financial information from Thistle before moving forward with their project. The article stated, “Under the tentative agreement, the LDDA would put up $5.5 million out of its tax increment financing fund and the city would donate the land — valued last year at about $2 million — and would waive about $800,000 in development fees.” And a “$752,000 financing gap that one side or the other must fill”. According to my math, that’s $9,052,000!

City’s Secret Audit
I received an anonymous tip that the City of Longmont did an audit of Thistle, and that the financial audit revealed serious problems. Although LDDA board members were able to see the audit, no one could keep a copy because Thistle asked the Longmont Finance Director Jim Golden to keep the document’s findings a secret.

Now the city is denying Open Records requests to release this information. Thistle is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. How many of you know what that is? I did a random poll of people, none were attorneys, but all knew what a 501(c)(3) was: a group that you can give contributions to and write it off on your taxes. Just about every aspect of these types of organizations is supposed to be open to public scrutiny.

IRS Code mandates Thistle disclose its financial records
When I asked the Longmont City Attorney Eugene Mei about this, his response was: “I am unaware of Thistle’s corporate status, or the law pertaining to 501(C)3 entities.” Let me help out here. At the following link http://www.990online.com/fedlaws.html there is an explanation of this part of the IRS code. Here are some relevant highlights:

26 USC 6104(d). Public Inspection of Certain Annual Returns and Applications for Exemption.
(1) In general.–In the case of an organization described in subsection (c) or (d) of section 501 —
(A) a copy of– (i) the annual return filed under section 6033 (relating to returns by exempt organizations) by such organization, and
(ii) (refers to exemptions, no exemption has been requested)
(B) upon request of an individual made at such principal office or such a regional or district office, a copy of such annual return and exempt status application materials shall be provided to such individual without charge other than a reasonable fee for any reproduction and mailing costs.
The request described in subparagraph (B) must be made in person or in writing. If such request is made in person, such copy shall be provided immediately and, if made in writing, shall be provided within 30 days.

State Records show Thistle $23.5 million in the hole
Thistle’s records, by federal law, are not confidential. Why is Longmont treating it as such? Here’s where it gets interesting, and the point of this story: Thistle did file a short preliminary report with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, as it is required to do. The numbers are troubling, which I’d guess is why the LDDA wanted more financial information and the city did an audit on Thistle. According to this Secretary of State link, for the year ending 9/30/2008 , Thistle had expenses that outpaced revenues by over $4 million, and an End of Year balance of -$23,535,929. Those are both negative numbers. What hasn’t been released yet is the full report describing the sources of revenue, where the expenses went to, and why they were nearly triple the revenue coming in.

What is in the city audit Thistle doesn’t want the public to know?
Now maybe there is a good explanation for this and the numbers could just reveal what is happening to many non-profits during these tough financial times. But these poor numbers should make the public very curious about what the city’s independent audit revealed. The numbers published online by Thistle were bad enough. What is it that the city found that makes Thistle demand that the findings remain a secret?

If you’ll recall, 2 years ago a similar downtown project was discontinued after it was revealed there was a $9 million “financial gap”. And of course we know about the bait and switch of FasTracks and how the price continues to go up and the construction gets further and further away. Regardless of your opinion about this project and this organization, we need to make sure something similar doesn’t happen partnering up with Thistle.

Some council members are playing favorites with developers
Some members of this council stalled Panattoni’s request to move forward with the redeveloping the Twin Peaks Mall, and their emboldened city mouthpieces have smeared Panattoni, a company with a proven record. Look at Harvest Junction and the news releases featuring new stores and even a new hotel, as well as their plans for a new theater and their overall vision for the mall (no, I’m not paid or asked by anyone to say the above).

But when members of this council favor (Thistle) in an area they’d prefer to focus on (Downtown), it gets completely different treatment, even if they may not be financially sound. Something’s rotten here, and the involvement of those involved, including certain members of city council and city staff, should be held accountable. And preferably before this project even gets close to reality.

Go to the LDDA board meeting on Wednesday and ask some good questions
The LDDA will be holding a meeting this Wednesday April 22 at 528 Main Street at 4:15 p.m. If you are concerned about this issue, show up and ask questions, like: Can Thistle really come up with the money to fund this project, or not? Is the city going to be left holding the bag if Thistle goes belly up? Is Thistle using taxpayer money to get itself out of a financial jam? Ask the council members who were on the Technical Review Committee (TRC) that recommended this project if they are aware of this financial information? The council liaison is Karen Benker (303)774-7745 karenbenkerlg@earthlink.net and the staff liaison is Finance Director Jim Golden (who originally denied the Open Records request) (303)651-8629 jim.golden@ci.longmont.co.us

A dark cloud is going to remain over this project unless Longmont lives up to its promise of open and honest government.
(Picture source: City of Longmont government website)

LA030: Reporters as valets, City Council bombs in poll, and opinions on each councilmember

November 24, 2008 Show

I’m The One, Pick Me by Modern Science

Longmont Times-Call staffers as valets?
by Brigette/Longmont Examiner

Continue reading…

Longmont Times-Call staffers invited to work as valets at owner’s Christmas party?

(Submitted by Brigette Rodriguez)

(This way for your journalism degree?)

Report the news…or park the bosses car? It’s being reported that staffers at Longmont’s Daily Times Call newspaper have been asked to act as valets at a private party for Ed Lehman, who is the publisher of the paper.
Does this include the writers? I personally hope the below article is a joke as I don’t want my editors at Examiner getting any ideas! I’m lousy at parallel parking. I also took a sharpie and drew a line on my garage wall to show me where to line up the antenna to my mini-van so I don’t plow into the house.
Hey…cool, a Lexus! Continue reading…

LA028: Council’s stunning lack of understanding, and Skyline’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

November 10, 2008 Show

City Council Watch

Every Little Thing by Modern Science Continue reading…

Candidates Forum: 3rd Parties

On October 1st, the Times-Call sponsored a Candidate Forum at Longmont High School, it was a fairly interesting night. I assume the televised version won’t quite capture some of the more interesting moments inside and outside of the auditorium, and the sound quality was abysmal throughout.

There’s plenty to talk about when it comes to this event, but the Times-Call has already had some reporting on it, so I’ll shed a different light on it.

Our city’s non-partisan nature when it comes to City Council is a favorite subject of mine, I’ve written about it plenty of times and is a system I agree with. As I was watching and listening to the candidates, I wondered what it would be like to have all politics non-partisan in nature. To take the candidates at face value with no party attached to them and the baggage that includes. If you watch the TV replay of the various debates that occurred that night, think about it how you’d react if either there were no political parties, or if you had no idea which party any of the speakers were members of.

Quite often at these events, the most colorful and entertaining speakers are the third party candidates. This event was no different. Whether I agreed with their platforms or not, I made a point of trying to meet these speakers and tell them good luck and good job on their performance and passion. Names that come to mind from past events like this are Ralph Shnelvar and our own Paul Tiger. This time, speakers of interest were J.A. Calhoun, Bob Kinsey, and Douglas “Dayhorse” Campbell. Their party affiliation? If you need to know, look it up.

I’m no Pollyanna and know parties are probably here to stay, for better or worse. But it was nice to see old time politics, if only in my own mind, probably the way our founding fathers meant it to be, with candidates making their case, sometimes with great emotion and occasionally with humor. In that regard, they were all winners.

So, read up on your candidates and issues, and get out and vote. Like one of the slogans on the back of my old Wrongmont golf shirts said: “A Vote Is a Terrible Thing to Waste.”

Next up, how partisanship shapes our local government.

LA023: October surprises, Times-Call against RTD FasTracks, Dusty Hughes and Polaradio artist spotlights

LA-w-Chris

September 29, 2008 Show

Fuzz by Lords of Fuzz

October Surprises” and general
election comments and opinion Continue reading…

LA019: Politicians “in the pocket” of donors, Election Taskforce, and MLK speech confusion

LA-w-ChrisSeptember 1, 2008 Show

Oxygen by Dusty Hughes

Recording techniques
Times-Call Guest Editorial responses

In The Pocket” about campaign contributions 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.

“Phony Patriotism”

Just when you thought it couldn’t get much more pathetic, Longmont politics hit an all time low recently. And who would be leading that charge, Councilman Sean McCoy, of course. You weren’t expecting anyone else, were you?

At the July 15th Longmont City Council Meeting, my wife got up to speak at Public Invited To Be Heard. She spoke about our organization Vote! Longmont and all the work she put into setting up for Rhythm on the River. It was substantial, trust me. She created a voting booth out of a recycled refrigerator box obtained from a local business. She coordinated our location at the event. She arranged my John Adams costume. She worked long hours making hundreds of bookmarks with our site name on one side, and fun election links for kids on the other. She made up copies of literature about election and registration deadlines, current school board issues, info on local businesses to encourage local shopping, and the “meet your council member” fliers. There was NO partisan literature, unless you consider a book by the League of Women Voters and a copy of the U.S.Constitution by the Cato Institute overtly partisan.

I could care less what a classless buffoon says or thinks about me. I deal with them all the time, no sweat off my back. But Mr. McCoy took it beyond just me with the following: He came up to our booth, and as I saw him formulating his zinger, I put out a hand and offered him one of our Vote! Longmont bookmarks. He said ” I wouldn’t take any of your garbage” and quickly walked away. My 12 year old son was sitting right next to me, actually closer to where Mr. McCoy was when he said this. He insulted all the work my wife put in to this project (we are a team) and showed no respect for the fact that my minor son was right there.

I mostly laughed it off, but my family was furious. As much as I tried to talk my wife out of it, she dealt it out to Mr. McCoy to the point where he responded immediately, something you don’t often see at council meetings. Here were his pearls of wisdom:

Well, I’m just gonna address that real quickly and the issue was is that it wasn’t just all that, so folks out there the public understand. It was also a blog from a cons..uhh cards from her husbands conservative blog that was uh being handed out there too. And uh a lot of other things. And what we don’t know is uh what was actually said to every one of those parents about what uh each of us as councilmembers stand for in her husband’s perspective. So, I would just like that to go on the record as well.”

Some people just don’t know when to stop when they’re way behind. Notice he didn’t deny saying it, again, in front of our son? But let’s go through the myths and lies one at a time:

MYTH/LIE #1: My cards weren’t being handed out. My cards were off to the side and were only handed out or even mentioned if someone asked. It wasn’t our main focus. He wasn’t standing in front of those cards anyway.

MYTH/LIE #2:Conservative” blog. I cover Longmont issues. Last I checked city council is supposed to be non-partisan, we shouldn’t even know their party affiliation. Apparently, Mr. McCoy showed his poorly played hand here with his obvious disdain for ” conservatives“. I’ll remind people that this very issue is being taken on by the Election Reform Committee. I don’t care how people label me as I’ve been called a right and left wing whack job. But recently, I’ve been told I wasn’t a conservative, by a couple of non-conservatives! Nice try.

Also, our Vote Longmont website rotates ads from both parties. Quite often, a Jared Polis ad appears, is he a conservative? (Answer: no)

MYTH/LIE #3:And a lot of other things“, yes, those other things were the above mentioned not even close to partisan literature, including info on Mr. McCoy’s current council.

MYTH/LIE #4:Speculation and assumptions of what we were telling parents who came up to us. You know, I’m called a lot of things, stupid isn’t usually one of them. It would be public suicide for me to show a lick of partisanship in a large visibility venue like this with this voter registration drive. I would be taken to task for time immemorial. Not to mention we were told by the organizers that we couldn’t be partisan anyway. So is Mr. McCoy alleging we broke the rules of Rhythm On The River based on a guess? A totally unfounded accusation.

Hate to burst any councilmembers egos, but people don’t know who you are for the most part. What some know, they hear or read from the Times-Call (if they receive it) and bloggers like me. Mr. McCoy intimated I slandered him or others on council. Again, a guess. And an untrue one. Like I’m going to have THEIR “meet your councilmembers” literature and rip on them IN FRONT OF KIDS! Who would do such a thing in front of kids? Oops, well, I wouldn’t.

We’ve been on the front page of the Times-Call with this voter registration drive saying we would register anyone, party doesn’t matter. So he’s calling us liars there, too. When kids asked how they should vote, we never steered them in any direction. We had no partisan literature. I was in costume as a President whose party was neither Republican nor Democratic.

Here’s the best part and further proof of his complete lack of any foundation for his ridiculous comments: Yes, we registered several voters – NONE REGISTERED REPUBLICAN! Woops, there goes that partisan idea. And that mock election we had? We had 172 votes, OBAMA WON BY A 2-1 MARGIN!Woops, there goes another preconceived notion. We even posted the results on our website that night! If my ” perspective” was on display that day, I must not very convincing and his anti-conservative (apparently) leanings have nothing to worry about.

Later on, Mr. McCoy hinted our organization was not ” legitimate“.This borders on slander. I’ll remind him we were certified by the Colorado Secretary of State. We could, by the way, be as partisan as we like, many voter registration drives are, we chose not to be. But how are we any less legitimate than any other group in attendance at this event?

He then, as an ” educator“, asked the City Manager to look into not allowing groups like ours to ever return to a city sponsored event. But since he brought this up, there was a group that was roaming the event with clipboards trying to register voters, and they were overtly partisan. They had no booth and probably were not registered with the event organizers. Were they a “legitimate” voter registration drive? I’m sure Mr. McCoy will dig deep into this.

At this point I’d like to thank the City of Longmont for sponsoring this event and assigning us a great location, too! We were asked to be located there and provide an activity for the area.

Then as if right on cue the near weekly name-calling commenced, this time he accused us of ” phony patriotism“. Very nice. People in Ward 3 should really be proud.

One of his fawning apologists said to Mr. McCoy that the ” politics of personal destruction” are here in Longmont, or some laughable nonsense. But in a way she was right, for once, perhaps it is. In the person of Mr. McCoy and his ilk in this city.

Lastly, Mr. McCoy tried to deflect the blame for the mere mention of the poor returns of the City Survey. Take a look at your words and actions, Mr. McCoy, and you’ll find part of the reason. We respect the members of council and the time they put in. I’ve even complimented Mr. McCoy from time to time on my podcast. But I will call officials out and hold them accountable as I always have. Mr. McCoy words and actions disgrace the office he was elected to.