Despite current city council flap, Aurora city manager not an election issue, hopefuls say

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AURORA | Despite a heated start to 2015, with Aurora City Council divided over an attempt to oust the city manager, campaigns for open council seats are off to a quiet start.

Most potential candidates said their campaigns will focus on neighborhood issues and business development in the city, and will not delve into the controversy surrounding the divided city council.

“I think it’s inappropriate for any non-incumbent to express any opinions about the city manager situation,” said Charlie Richardson, Aurora’s longtime former city attorney who is running for a Ward IV seat. “The city manager works directly for only 11 people. They’re really the only ones in my opinion (who) should be discussing the status of the city manager.”

Five of 10 council seats are open, with two incumbents leaving after serving the maximum three terms. Three are for ward seats, and two are for at-large seats.

Richardson said local issues such as the redevelopment of Regatta Plaza will be his top campaign priority this election. In May, Denver-based firms Mile High Development and Koelbel were chosen by the city as the developers to overhaul the aging shopping center and create a new residential-commercial development on its 22 acres.

Arnie Schultz, who serves on the city’s Parks and Recreation Board and is seeking the Ward IV seat, also has focused on the Regatta redevelopment, saying he is championing bringing new business to the city through Regatta and other infill development, and said he has no plans to comment on the divided council. 

“I will not take a position on the city manager and city council disagreement until I am on city council and have access to all that was discussed during executive session and have had a chance to discuss the issue with the city manager and my colleagues on council,” he said. “I would have preferred the topic to remain in executive session since it is a personnel matter. It has taken the focus off some of the great things taking place in the city.”

This year’s divide over City Manager Skip Noe’s performance is something even incumbents who have been privy to executive session discussions have avoided discussing.

Ward V Councilman Bob Roth, running for a second full term, said he hopes the controversy about Noe won’t be an issue come November.

“I know there are some people who do think it’s going to be a campaign issue. If it becomes a campaign issue, I can only state what my opinions are,” he said. “I think for the job (Noe) was hired to do, which was to run a large city with a large staff and half-a-billion-dollar budget, he does a good job.”

Roth faces newcomer Cheri McElhiney in the Ward V race, and said he plans to run a campaign focused on neighborhood issues.

“To me that’s snow removal, sidewalk repair, pot holes, things we deal with to help our constituents as a ward council member,”   he said. 

He said he’s also taken a lesson from Denver City Council’s recent municipal elections — including the surprise loss by Chris Nevitt for Denver city auditor — and won’t simply lean on his incumbent status.

“I’m gearing up for full campaign mode, and  plan to do a lot of walking,” Roth said.

Floyd Ciruli, a nonpartisan Denver-based political consultant, said local incumbents should be on their toes this year given the uncertain political climate for both Democrats and Republicans in the state.

“The one thing I’d say about the elections right now, whether you’re looking at Great Britain, Denver or Aurora, while there appears to be a surface calm, there is also a churning underneath,” he said. “There’s a populist fever and dislike of government. You saw that to some extent in Denver with the auditor’s race.”

Ciruli added that Aurora’s mayoral race would keep the issue of Noe at least as a backdrop for the whole municipal election, if not in the forefront. 

Term-limited Ward IV Councilwoman Molly Markert announced her candidacy for mayor in late March, linking the move to the controversy over unhappiness with Noe.

She said she plans to make how the city is run a large part of her campaign.

“How well or not the city is being managed should be a huge issue coloring the city’s future,” she said. “The balance sheet and project progress are one-dimensional reports. If tax-paying citizens and businesses are treated differently — ignored, disrespected and dismissed as inconvenient — then the city is not well-managed and changes are needed.”

In her May ward newsletter, Markert pointed to an administrative waiver the city used to approve the design for the Iliff Parking Garage that will serve the new Aurora light rail when it opens in 2016.

She said the design deserved more public input, and that it posed challenges to traffic control and pedestrian safety in surrounding neighborhoods.

“This is (an) $8 million of taxpayer investment in the very first parking garage ever owned by Aurora,” she wrote, adding that the approval process was shortsighted and snubbed “the very citizens who are paying the bill.” 

In that same newsletter, she  wrote that Aurora’s city manager had a “proclivity” for “sneaking things past council and citizens.”

Markert said the same thing happened with a Dunkin Donuts that opened last year on the corner of East Iliff Avenue and South Havana Street on the former site of Johnny’s Diner. She and some Ward IV residents advocated for the developer to put in a sidewalk with the new business to replace street parking that extends to the edge of Iliff Avenue, where almost 80,000 cars pass by every day. The absent sidewalk was a problem inflicted on the busy corner by city planners decades ago.

“Find me one other governmental entity that allowed a non-ADA accessible sidewalk to be approved on a site plan, and I will show you another instance of complete disdain for citizens’ interests,” she told the Aurora Sentinel in April.

But the Dunkin Donuts site plan was approved by the city’s planning commission and also was not required to include a sidewalk, according to Jim Sayre, city planning manager. He told the Aurora Sentinel last July the changes being made to the building did not require constructing a sidewalk.

Noe told the Aurora Sentinel in April it has never been his intent to offend any council members and that he is simply doing his job.

“This is a case where a developer or a business came in and operated within the city guidelines. Because there was not a change in the footprint of the building, there was not a nexus to require certain changes in the site,”  he said.

Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said he will be disappointed if personnel issues become a part of campaign rhetoric this election.

“If that’s the best thing somebody can come up with to turn into an issue, that’s short-sighted and pretty weak,” he said. “I don’t want to have an innocuous debate about someone who can’t defend himself in the campaign.”

Several Aurora residents have already filed for candidacy in the November 2015 municipal election.

Three residents in Ward VI — Francoise Bergen, PK Kaiser and Brian Arnold — have filed to run for the seat being vacated by term-limited Bob Broom.

Current at-large council members Debi Hunter Holen and Bob LeGare are seeking re-election, while Angela Lawson is also vying for one of the two at-large seats.

To make the ballot, mayoral and at-large candidates must file petitions signed by at least 100 voters. Ward candidates are required to file petitions signed by a minimum of 50 voters. The last day to file petitions is Aug. 25.

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Joe Hardhat
Joe Hardhat
7 years ago

Molly Markert is making a mountain out of a molehill with the Dunkin Donuts deal. An ADA accessible sidewalk at that particular location would still be a great hazard to folks in wheelchairs, as 80,000 cars pass by each day … with perhaps 1% of drivers texting at any given time. I’d feel unsafe even as an able-bodied pedestrian walking at that particular location. Perhaps 99.9% overall compliance with ACA in an imperfect world is a good compromise. In any event, the new owners of Dunkin Donuts were completely within their rights to just remodel the existing building without giving up parking spaces. How about honoring property rights.

Carpintero
Carpintero
7 years ago

If Aurora is run by the city manager, why do we even have a mayor? Why are we paying (salary, health care, retirement, and every other benefit) for a figurehead? And how much more (office, staff, and all the supplies and utilities that requires) are we paying to support a figurehead? How do we do away with that position, and all it costs?

Joe Hardhat
Joe Hardhat
7 years ago
Reply to  Carpintero

He’s the tie breaking vote if the council is equally split and is answerable to the entire Aurora electorate rather than an individual ward. Also, the mayor takes the lead in public council meetings and private executive sessions. Pardon the amateur civics lesson.

Carpintero
Carpintero
7 years ago
Reply to  Joe Hardhat

Not a problem, Joe. I did know that. I still don’t see, in any of his functions, a justification for his position. There has got to be a much better, and cost saving, way to accomplish all those incredible responsibilities. And answerable to the entire electorate? Any elected official is technically answerable – at least when they run for re-election. Otherwise they tend to do what they want.