Monday, January 6, 2014

Inside the C4C decision

Posted By on Mon, Jan 6, 2014 at 3:50 PM

After the state Economic Development Commission voted 7-2 on Dec. 16 to fully fund Colorado Springs' City for Champions with $120.5 million in state sales tax rebates, we wondered whether and how commissioners were communicating prior to that decision.

So we asked for e-mail traffic to and from commissioners from Nov. 12 through Dec. 17. The commissioners and how they voted, first, on the projects themselves, and second on the funding level:

Dick Monfort, yes, yes
J.J. Ament, yes, yes
Millete Birhanemaskel, yes, no
Denise Brown, yes, yes
Howard Gelt, yes, yes
Noel Ginsberg, yes, no
Francis Koncilja, yes, yes
Chuck Murphy, abstained (He owns property near the downtown development site.)
Dwayne Romero, yes, yes
Bill Sisson, yes, yes
Teresa Taylor, absent

There's no smoking gun among the e-mails, but there are a couple of odd messages.

Such as the Dec. 14 message from EDC member Bill Sisson to Ken Lund, executive director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Lund recommended C4C receive about $53 million, rather than $120.5 million, based on the number of out-of-state tourists the four venues would draw, as calculated by the state-hired financial analyst. (The venues are a downtown sports/events center, downtown Olympic museum, sports medicine center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and an Air Force Academy Visitors Center.)

Sisson, of Grand Junction, is a retired American National Bank senior regional president  and director of Sturm Financial Group.
click to enlarge Sisson: Changed his vote. - EDC
  • EDC
  • Sisson: Changed his vote.


"Ken — a well thought analysis and I plan to vote as you recommend. Thanks, Bill," Sisson wrote. Then, two days later, he changed his tune and voted with the majority to approve the projects and the higher funding level. We haven't been able to reach Sisson to learn more about why he changed his mind.

Noel Ginsburg, chairman and CEO of Intetech Plastics, Inc., Intertech Medical, Inc. and Twist Body Brands, Inc., sent a message at 7:59 p.m. on Dec. 16, the day of the vote, to Gov. John Hickenlooper's chief of staff Roxane White, saying:

After today's EDC meeting I am convinced I need some political TLI mentoring. Although I am supportive of the City of Champions project in Colorado Springs, I was stunned that I was the only commission member that questioned the funding amount, and voted against funding 100% of the project.

For the Commission to totally ignore Ken Lund's recommendation and that of the consultant WE hired leaves me speechless. What the Commission did today was wrong in my opinion, and did not serve the people of Colorado.

My question to you is simple, what should I do differently to better fulfill my role on the Commission and prevent this type of thing from happening in the future? Or am I just looking at this in the wrong way? 

Let me know what you think.
Fourteen minutes later, White responded: "Ken was so grateful to you. You have no idea (well maybe you do) ... We were stunned with Monfort and JJ...."

We've asked Ms. White what she meant by that but haven't heard back. We'll update if we do.
click to enlarge Ginsburg: "Could not believe" vote outcome. - EDC WEBSITE
  • EDC website
  • Ginsburg: "Could not believe" vote outcome.

In a telephone interview today, Ginsburg tells the Independent:

I was fairly clear in the e-mail. Frankly, I could not believe that after staff suggested consistent with what the expert we hired to validate the numbers that the board would totally ignore to the extent they did that information was very surprising to me, and frankly, as a new commissioner that I didn't speak up loud enough to voice my concerns, though I did speak up in the hearing. Next time I will kick up more of a fuss.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's the right thing for Colorado and Colorado Springs, but the commission has a responsibility to the people of Colorado. I felt I didn't do my job well enough to question loud enough why we would go against what was recommended to us by our own expert and our staff, whom I highly respect.

People can get behind emotionally a project, which they think makes sense, and this one does. Sometimes we don't look at the details, and the details don't warrant the level of subsidy we approved. I would have expected let's split the baby. I felt I didn't do my job because I should have been louder.

I think there are some hurdles the city has to get through to make it happen, and I hope they do, because I, for one, hope to visit the [tourist] projects.

We reported some of those hurdles in the most recent issue, and that's just scratching the surface.

We also should note that Howard Gelt raised several questions about the proposal, all of which were redacted from the e-mail messages we were given without explanation. We've asked the EDC staff to state a reason for the redactions.

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