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Conflict-of-interest allegations dog debate over Atkinson Ditch trail

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Allegations of conflicts of interest have added some new twists and turns to the debate over the direction of Glenwood Springs’ trail system.People both for and against running the trail between Hager Lane and the Roaring Fork River have suggested city officials with personal interests inappropriately have made decisions related to the issue.All three of those officials – City Council members Dave Merritt and Chris McGovern, and new River Commission member Greg Albrecht – deny the accusations.Former River Commission member Barney Mulligan says Merritt and McGovern were out of line in voting to appoint Hager Lane resident Cheryl Guay to the commission. Merritt, McGovern and Guay all oppose the proposed trail route.Guay fell short on votes and wasn’t appointed to the commission. Mulligan, who long has pushed for the proposed trail alignment while on the commission, failed in his bid to get reappointed.McGovern owns property on Hager Lane. Mulligan said Merritt opposes the trail route because the eventual trail master plan would result in the trail continuing along the river past his home in Glenwood Park. But Merritt said no such trail is planned.Hager Lane resident Mike Gettinger said Albrecht bought an investment property on Hager and then voted for putting the trail through there, arguing it would increase his property value.”I think that’s a big conflict of interest,” Gettinger said.l

Albrecht said that he and his wife had put in an offer on a Hager Lane property but it wasn’t accepted. He said he disclosed the offer at the commission meeting, and though it later was turned down he continues to believe the trail will increase property values on Hager Lane. But he said that was only one of several arguments he made on behalf of placing the trail there. He said it will provide a safer route to schools, won’t invade privacy the way Hager Lane residents say it will, is not the environmental threat they make it out to be, and is in keeping with what developers agreed to when Hager Lane residences were built.”I believe this is a not-in-my-backyard syndrome and they (Hager Lane residents) are grasping at straws” in opposing the trail route, including by making the accusation against him, Albrecht said.Merritt said if someone in a position of power is pushing for a city action because it would increase their property value, that could be a concern. But he said the question of whether trails harm or hurt property values is unresolved.”There are differences of opinion across the country as to the impact of trails. (Albrecht) may have been just expressing that viewpoint,” Merritt said.Merritt also noted that the River Commission only makes recommendations, and can’t take final action the way council can.McGovern has not participated in direct council consideration of the Hager Lane issue because of her property interest. But she thinks making an appointment to a commission is different.”This was a board, for heaven’s sake. … We weren’t talking about Hager Lane, and I voted for people I thought should have a chance,” she said.She said she has given up her own rights concerning the Hager Lane issue by serving on council, but thinks it was important for residents concerned about the trail alignment to be represented on the commission.Merritt agrees. “I think it would be good to have somebody on the River Commission who represents a different point of view. Cheryl (Guay) represented a different point of view.”He said he doesn’t think it’s proper to exclude a Hager Lane representative from the commission, considering the issue in front of the commission. The commission recommended unanimously to council that the trail follow the Hager Lane route.Gettinger agreed that it would be only fair to add some balance to the commission on the trail issue, but added, “If it was totally neutral, where nobody had an interest in Hager Lane, then they could look at it more objectively and more neutrally.”

Glenwood’s city code has a conflict-of-interest section that requires council members and board and commission appointees to disclose when they have monetary or other material or substantial interests in an issue, and not participate in discussion or votes on that issue. City attorney Jan Shute said it comes down to personal responsibility. City officials must decide whether they can act objectively on an issue. Sometimes a conflict is obvious, and other times it’s not so clear-cut, she said.”The conflict-of-interest section, it’s one of those, the more you peel off, the more questions you get rather than answers. It’s just not a simple issue,” she said.As for Mulligan’s concerns about Merritt and McGovern’s vote on the River Commission appointment, “The River Commission doesn’t exist to deal with just this one issue, but I guess anybody can raise anything they want,” Shute said.The city allows for council to remove any appointee who willfully violates the ethics code, and to void any action in which someone inappropriately participated. A code violation is prosecutable as a misdemeanor criminal act.Mayor Bruce Christensen and council member Joe O’Donnell, who have been pushing for extension of the trail system through the Hager Lane area, aren’t concerned by McGovern or Merritt’s votes on the River Commission appointments.”That commission looks at many issues beyond the trail system,” Christensen said.O’Donnell said the city owns property below Merritt’s house but it’s unlikely a trail ever would be built there because the bank is so steep. If the trail being planned is built, there wouldn’t be a need for the other trail anyway, he said. Merritt said the designated trail heads up Three-Mile Creek instead, and he also already has a designated bike route in front of his house.O’Donnell also said he also didn’t see any conflict in Albrecht’s River Commission vote.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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