CORA requests seek 7th Street cost information from city of Glenwood Springs

Bike riders navigate Seventh Street Monday afternoon in Glenwood Springs.The street, which has been closed for some time to traffic during the Grand Avenue Bridge construction, is now open with pedestrians and cars traversing the road under the new bridge.
Kyle Mills / Post Independent

At least one private citizen and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent have filed separate CORA (Colorado Open Records Act) requests, calling for the release of the estimated costs associated with the Seventh Street beautification project.

Meanwhile, Glenwood City Council is set to consider a policy at its Thursday meeting this week that would allow the city to withhold construction estimates for projects that are beyond halfway designed, in an effort to keep the bidding process competitive.

On June 26, former City Council candidate Tony Hershey filed a public records request with the city, pursuing “Bids and/or costs related to the 7th Street Beautification Project only. I am only interested in this part of the [Grand Avenue] Bridge project, including infrastructure. This includes estimates and/or maintenance,” according to his formal request.

On Monday, Hershey told the Post Independent, “I am very concerned that there is money being spent, a lot of money, and there is no accountability and there is no transparency.”

At the June 7 Glenwood Springs City Council meeting, Councilors Shelley Kaup, Rick Voorhees and Jonathan Godes sought passage of a motion that would have “divulged the scope of the project, the estimated cost by phase of the project, and the potential sources of funding for the project.”

One concern among those particular council members is that the Seventh Street project, which in the past has been estimated in the range of $8 million over multiple phases spread across several years, could cut into the city’s ability to pay for other infrastructure projects, such as the South Midland rebuild and the Sixth Street corridor master plan.

The motion failed 4-3, with Councilors Steve Davis, Todd Leahy and Jim Ingraham joining Mayor Mike Gamba in voting to keep the estimates for an initial phase of the project involving installation of new sanitary sewer line under wraps.

“What are [they] so upset about that [the numbers] can’t be released?” asked Hershey, who said he’s never filed a CORA request until now.

“I was on the [Aspen] city council for four years. … I didn’t like executive sessions, you know, with certain, very limited, exceptions,” he said. “They don’t work for a private company, they work for the people of Glenwood Springs, and every penny they spend is ours, and they have to account for every penny. What is going on?”

Hershey, now a Glenwood Springs resident, ran for one of the at-large council seats in 2015, losing out to former Councilor Kathryn Trauger. He also applied for, and was passed over, for appointment to Trauger’s seat earlier this year when she stepped down due to work obligations, and she was ultimately replaced by Ingraham.

Councilor Davis said Monday that it’s important to note there are multiple phases involved with the larger Seventh Street redevelopment project.

“There’s a lot more than the beautification project proposed by the Downtown Development Authority, of which I sit as council liaison on that board,” Davis said. “The beautification project is exactly that. It’s to build Glenwood Springs a festival street.”

Davis explained the festival street concept would offer a practical space for farmers markets and civic events. The councilor, who represents the west downtown area as part of his Ward 1, also stated, “I think that when all this kind of bickering at council came up, you know, do we tell these subcontractors what we’re guessing their quotes or their bids are going to be or not.

“I think Tony just grabbed a hold of that, and there was an accusation that night, I think even by Shelley, that maybe there was something secret going on,” Davis said. “Well there’s nothing secret, it’s just a matter of, there’s a lot of meetings you would have to attend to catch every bit of conversation that goes on in the city.”

Joining Hershey on Monday, the Post Independent also filed a CORA request related to the Seventh Street project, seeking all shared with City Council during the last 12 months regarding the planned Seventh Street work, including dates of work sessions and regular meetings with the DDA, and any documents or slide presentations that would include cost estimates.

Attorney Steven Zansberg, who works with Colorado newspapers on public records, open meetings and other media access issues through the Colorado Press Association, said any information distributed to council members at a public meeting should be made public. A provision of CORA does allow for so-called “work product” estimates to be kept confidential in advance of a project being put out to bid.

“It’s hard to see how this is ‘work product’ if they are going to let the contract and disclose that figure to potential bidders,” he said.

But a proposed new policy on the table for council to consider Thursday night would let the city withhold engineering cost estimates for projects that are beyond 50 percent design, “in an effort to achieve the lowest possible competitive bids.”

Under the proposed policy, however, exceptions would be made when a project involves a grant application; if it’s subject to the formal request for proposals or request for qualifications process seeking professional services; at the request of the city manager; or in response to a CORA request.

Councilor Godes, who represents the South Glenwood-area Ward 5 where the Midland project is a major concern, offered that, “We need to make sure this isn’t just a conversation between the DDA and council in executive session.

“I just think that we don’t ever lose when we can be as transparent as possible,” Godes added. “We’ve never done it this way in Glenwood Springs, and I have been told that.” And, “I’ve never heard of any other municipality keeping things secret in the hope that they might get some better bids from general contracting partners.”

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