Talk and balk: Aurora city council remains split over manager Skip Noe

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AURORA | The political and dramatic fog swirling around a city council divided over the performance of Aurora City Manager Skip Noe thinned this week when some city lawmakers talked about what they don’t like about the embattled top city administrator.

For months, council members have kept mum about closed-door meetings surrounding allegations that Noe treats some of the councilwomen unfairly, but most of the details they revealed for this story didn’t speak to those allegations.

Skip Noe on Monday April 13, 2015 at Aurora Municipal Center. (Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel)
Skip Noe on Monday April 13, 2015 at Aurora Municipal Center. (Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel)

A slim majority of six city council members have consistently and staunchly backed Noe just as five have demanded he resign. While council members on both sides have alluded to criticisms and what’s behind them, details of the controversy have been kept in city council closed meetings — until now.

Ward I Councilwoman Sally Mounier, who was among four
other women to push forward a failed vote of no confidence for Noe in January, was one of the councilwomen to share a specific example after a closed meeting Monday that left city lawmakers agreeing only that the issue has caused a serious rift among the normally congenial group.

Mounier said she spoke with Noe last year about changing the way constituent requests are handled in her ward. Aurora operates under a council-manager form of government where part-time city council members set legislative policy and the budget, and a city manager carries out the day-to-day operations with a city staff.

Under that system, all constituent complaints to a city council member get funneled to the city manager’s office. From there, the city manager delegates a department to deal with the request and the department follows up with both the council member and the constituent when the request has been handled.

Mounier said she doesn’t want it to be that way.

“If a constituent has taken time to call me, I want to be the person to call them back. Skip refused to do it that way,” she said.

Mounier said when she kept on Noe about making an exception for her ward with constituent communications, he insulted her.

“He said you’re not the queen of your ward,” she said. She said though Noe apologized for the comment later, she found it to be out of line and sexist.

Noe did not address whether he made that statement, but he said he did speak with Mounier about her request to have more personalized communication with her constituents when it came to handling their requests. He said he did not make an exception for Mounier because it was not what the majority of city council
wanted.

“It’s not keeping with council policy,” he said. “We’re (city staff) supposed to make contact with citizens and have a conversation about what’s going on and what the response is. It’s not good customer service. She asked me to make that directive, and I refused to make that directive. If she wants to call a citizen back afterward, no one is trying to keep her from interacting with citizens that have issues.”

Council members who support Noe and city staff say that because the city is so large, a consistent, efficient system is important to ensure residents and businesses get fast results when requests come in.

Ward IV Councilwoman Molly Markert, who also voted in January that she had no confidence in Noe, said each of the councilwomen who voted similarly had different issues, but that they follow a common theme.

“The common theme is that (problems) are not dealt with efficiently, timely, accurately or in accordance with our stated preferences,” she said of the various grievances with Noe that have been alluded to by Councilwomen Barb Cleland, Marsha Berzins and Renie Peterson, who also voted they had no confidence in Noe.

Despite a focus on allegations that Noe treated council women poorly, most of the issues those critical of Noe discussed focused on other claims.

Markert pointed to a Dunkin Donuts that opened last year on the corner of East Iliff Avenue and South Havana Street. The shop once housed the now-shuttered 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 said.

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, a manager with the city’s planning department. He told the Aurora Sentinel last July the changes being made to the building did not require constructing a sidewalk.

“If we did require a sidewalk that was built to our regulations, it would interfere with the parking and circulation around the building, given the small size of the lot,” he wrote in an email.

Noe echoed Sayre’s statement.

“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.

Noe said it has never been his intent to offend any council members, and that he is simply doing his job.

“I have to look at a bigger system as authorized by the majority of council,” he said. “I want to be responsible to individual council members, but I also have a broader system that I have to operate in.”

Noe’s position and the split on city council solidified after a third closed meeting Monday.

“He’s staying, and we have a very fractured council,” said Councilwoman Barb Cleland. “The other members of council didn’t seem to be concerned.”

Mounier said after that meeting, she was disappointed that he is keeping his job.

“It doesn’t matter to them that (Noe) has lied and misled us,” she said after the meeting. “It’s very hard to take.”

Neither Cleland nor Berzins responded to Aurora Sentinel requests for specific problems with Noe’s performance, but Berzins agreed that Noe would likely be an impediment to getting things done in the future.

“I am extremely disappointed that council and the mayor are not able to put aside their personal differences in order to solve this problem and move the city forward as quickly as possible,” she said. “We have much work to do, and this problem lingers on.”

Since January, the city has paid a mediator $1,370 to work with Noe and the city council on issues, according to city spokeswoman Kim Stuart.

Councilwoman Renie Peterson, who sided with the other council members asking for Noe to resign has distanced herself recently from accusations of Noe’s treatment of women on the city council. She also did not respond with details about Noe but previously said that she was unhappy with how the city was handling gas and oil drilling issues in her ward.

Council members on both sides say though they have resolved to keep Noe, tension remains high.

“There are strong feelings on both sides of this issue,” said Councilman Bob LeGare, a supporter of Noe. “When you’ve got people taking sides on a contentious issue, it’s going to raise tension between people. We’re all human beings.”

He said that interpersonal tension will not however affect the council members ability to get along well enough to do their jobs.

“I think the city is going to continue to run just fine,” LeGare said. “I don’t think it’s going to affect the operation of the city. The image of the city, that’s another story.”

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cammy38
cammy38
7 years ago

If councilwoman Mounier doesnt like the way her constituents’ complains are handled, perhaps the constituent should contact her directly. do that with my ward councilman. Councilwomen Berzins and Cleland should respond to questions posed to them by the Sentinel so that residents of Aurora know what is going on since “the ladies” made it as public as they did and continue to air their dirty laundry

Ashley In Aurora
Ashley In Aurora
7 years ago
Reply to  cammy38

Good advice on the direct contact. Mounier’s constituents voted her the queen of the ward and her subjects should be able to connect with her over any issue at all.
Berzins and Cleland not answering Aurora Sentinel doesn’t surprise me. If their queen Hillary can ignore the press, why shouldn’t they?

Joe Hardhat
Joe Hardhat
7 years ago

Ruffled feathers … apparently Sally Mournier is the instigator of this brouhaha, and persuaded some other, more passive councilwomen to participate in a no confidence vote. What we have are some thin-skinned councilwomen up against a very thick-skinned city manager who, although retirement age, is not ready to retire from a high paying cushy job … in a cushy office … with many excellent fringe benefits. Indeed, he could retire on the job and no one would know the difference. He’s smart to stay put, as he has nothing to prove and this is probably his last high-level position in his long career.

Retiree
Retiree
7 years ago

This all sounds rather petty.

votethemout
votethemout
7 years ago

Vote them out

Frank2525
Frank2525
7 years ago
Reply to  votethemout

You need to consider just who are you going to get to replace them? I don’t see too many of those writing on net, who will volunteer for such tedious schedules. And if this continues to split council, we may get back to a prior member (was mayor at the time) who wore a weapon to council meetings. I joshed Mayor Paul Tauer, if he ever had. He joked he had thought it at times.

Renie Peterson
Renie Peterson
7 years ago

The concerns that I have had were never about being treated differently because I am a woman.

My concerns were about information and waiver’s relevant to Ward II.

We as a Council are working to make changes that impact our City, and will benefit every citizen of Aurora.

Council and the City Manager are working through a process that takes time but has solutions that are best worked through with the process at hand.

Renie Peterson – Ward II

Frank2525
Frank2525
7 years ago

Something like this always seems petty to those outside the contact, and not on council, committee, or group. However, when council is split so evenly, it shows there is a problem, no matter how some try to blow it off. My phone service has conference ability, so if a reasonable time when Noe, the complainant, and the council person could not meet on phone conference (pre-arranged time), then perhaps complainant could be invited to attend regular council meeting, when problem can be presented to entire council, and discussion would find solution, or satisfaction that it was heard and settled. I don’t see a comfortable future for council meetings, until this is settled among them. And we on outside, if we want to complain about a member on council, should handle it directly, not through newspaper (which is more gossip, than solutions). And too many involved will never solve problem, but make it worse. I personally have a lot of respect for those who will go through having ankles kicked, or back stabbed, to represent citizens. Have experienced same problem of sidewalk superintendents, in my life too.

Frank2525
Frank2525
7 years ago

Have had contact in past years with different members of council still there, and was impressed with them then, and still am. I did not find them thin-skinned or unreasonable in past, and doubt they have changed that much since. So I do believe council has a problem.