While everyone else was listening to a financial analysis of Copper Ridge shopping center and its potential impact on county tax revenue, Commissioner Darryl Glenn was e-mailing a former campaign worker about what his motion would be, assuring her, "I have the votes."
On March 3, three El Paso County commissioners voted with Glenn to postpone indefinitely a proposal to funnel county sales tax money to Copper Ridge, in far north Colorado Springs. Commissioners feared the project would drain tax money from other shopping centers, resulting in a net loss of revenue to the county.
While indefinite postponement sounds grim, it actually allows for the issue to re-emerge at a later date. And given that Commission Chair Amy Lathen was pushing for outright rejection, it's a better outcome for developer Gary Erickson and partner Kevin Hawkins — who have financially supported Glenn's political campaigns in the past.
Glenn's sending e-mails didn't violate county rules, County Attorney Bill Louis says, because the item was legislative. Had it been a land-use matter, which is quasi-judicial, Glenn would have had to disclose publicly contacts made outside the public hearing.
Though other commissioners didn't criticize Glenn, two say they don't carry on e-mail conversations with outsiders during commission meetings, and a third has a problem with suggesting votes are decided ahead of time.
"I wouldn't want to go on the record that everyone had made a decision before the item was even heard," Commissioner Sallie Clark says. "I believe the public should be heard before you decide."
Commissioners, who have computers on the dais, occasionally peck away during meetings. The Indy obtained Glenn's e-mails from March 2 and 3 and found that Glenn received an e-mail from Alissa Vander Veen at 10:48 a.m. — in the midst of the Copper Ridge proposal — with the subject line saying, "Yawnsville!!"
Seven minutes later, Glenn e-mailed back, volunteering this: "I will be making a motion to indefinitely defer this proposal after this presentation."
More on the e-mails later, but first, who is Vander Veen?
She served as Glenn's deputy campaign manager last year, and also ran Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams' campaign. After Williams took office Jan. 1, he hired Vander Veen on Jan. 13 as special projects manager, a $57,500-a-year position he created.
Williams says he chose Vander Veen from four finalists, because she had "the best combination of elections and legislative knowledge."
Vander Veen, who has a bachelor's degree with emphases in fashion marketing and biblical studies, worked in the elections department from 2005 to 2009. She told co-workers in 2009 she was resigning to run Williams' campaign, say sources wishing to remain anonymous. Williams and Vander Veen deny he promised her a job.
Her résumé is heavy with political activity, from precinct work to assemblies to working on campaigns dating to 2004.
In her new job, she oversees the pending move of Williams' office to a facility on Garden of the Gods Road, though former clerk (now county treasurer) Bob Balink says "our office completed two major office relocations in 2005 and 2009 with existing staff." Vander Veen also monitors elections and redistricting legislation and tracks transportation issues, including the Copper Ridge discussion, because Williams says he's deeply involved in regional planning as a member of the State Transportation Advisory Committee and two other boards.
Heading off denial?
Erickson contributed to Glenn's campaign for commissioner in 2010. But he and Hawkins also gave generously to Glenn's campaign for Council in 2009, providing a combined $6,000 of his $13,500 raised.
It was as a Councilor that Glenn first backed Copper Ridge in a unanimous vote to designate the potential site of the 2.8-million-square-foot shopping center as an urban renewal area. (Williams, incidentally, spoke in favor of the measure before Council at that time.) That cleared the way to use tax revenue for infrastructure improvements — in this case, extending Powers Boulevard 4.5 miles to Interstate 25.
When the city and developers decided county money would be essential to the $80 million to $120 million Powers connection, the proposal came to the county — by which time Glenn was a newly minted commissioner. And even though Mayor Lionel Rivera announced on March 2 that the city would withdraw from the proposed deal — and instead look for other sources of money — the commission went ahead with considering it.
Here are the March 3 e-mails between Glenn and Vander Veen, exactly as typed. Commissioners voted on the issue at about 12:30 p.m.:
Vander Veen, 10:48 a.m.: "Yawnsville!!" in the subject line.
Glenn, 10:55 a.m.: "I will be making a motion to indefinitely defer this proposal after this presentation"
Vander Veen, 10:55 a.m.: "What does that mean, exactly?"
Glenn, 10:58 a.m.: "To formally withdraw this item indefinitely. I will also be requesting formal condition be accomplished before it can even be considered in the future (i.e. a signed agreement from the city of COS)"
Vander Veen, 11:08 a.m.: "Does that prevent Amy [Lathen, commission chair] from voting it down and allow it to come back?"
Glenn, 11:09 a.m.: "yes"
Vander Veen, 11:11 a.m.: "Do you think it will pass? Or will they side with Amy and kill it permanently?"
Glenn, 11:11 a.m.: "I have the votes"
Under parliamentary procedure, the purpose of indefinite postponement is not to postpone, but to head off a rejection for the duration of the meeting, allowing the matter to be renewed at a later meeting, according to Parliamentary Procedure Online.
Letter of the law
During the meeting, Commission Chair Amy Lathen asked at least twice for a motion to deny, but, as he predicted, Glenn proposed his motion instead.
Asked if she has engaged in similar e-mails with outsiders during commissioner meetings, Lathen says, "You're putting me in a position here. I'm going to say, I have not, and he was legally within his rights."
Commissioner Dennis Hisey says he's chosen not to e-mail others during meetings, because, "I was busy. I had an issue in front of me that I needed to deal with. It deserved all of my attention."
Whether Glenn had the votes prior to his motion as he claimed is doubtful. Clark and Lathen wanted to deny the proposal; Commissioner Peggy Littleton says, "I don't play my cards ahead of time," and Hisey called Glenn's claim "presumptuous."
Glenn's e-mails also contained another revelation: his deference to the city.
During the commission discussion, at 11:40 a.m., Glenn sent an e-mail to assistant city manager Nancy Johnson, outlining what his motion would be. After the meeting, Glenn checked in with Johnson.
"Darryl just called me," Johnson wrote in an e-mail at 2:52 p.m. that day to several city employees. "He wanted to know what we thought and I told him that we were grateful for his strategy."
While the city has vowed to look for other funding sources and to possible legislative aid to keep the project alive, Erickson has told the daily newspaper he plans to ask commissioners for their support again.
Glenn didn't return phone calls seeking comment.