Questions arise over ‘secret’ numbers associated with Glenwood Springs’ 7th Street project | PostIndependent.com

Questions arise over ‘secret’ numbers associated with Glenwood Springs’ 7th Street project

Matthew Bennett
mabennett@postindependent.com

Grand Avenue Bridge construction crews continue laying pavers underneath the new bridge near Seventh Street. The city's portion of the redevelopment effort has become a contentious issue as Glenwood Springs City Council decides how much to spend and what cost estimates to release publicly.

Last Thursday's Glenwood Springs City Council meeting discussion regarding the ongoing Seventh Street beautification project was anything but pretty.

The discussion, which caused some "unpleasantries," in the words of some council members, was intended to allow council to give direction to city staff on whether to send out to bid Phase 1 of the project, which involves installation of a new sanitary sewer line.

Without it, the subsequent five phases of a long-term Seventh Street redevelopment and beautification project that's to come in the aftermath of the Grand Avenue Bridge completion could not commence.

Councilor Shelly Kaup said she was "surprised" and "baffled" over the lack of specific costs tied the project, questioning what she said is a lack of public transparency in pushing the project forward.

Councilor Steve Davis asserted at the meeting, "I resent the accusations that there's not transparency," while Councilor Rick Voorhees exclaimed, "I don't get it!"

And Councilor Todd Leahy expressed, "This is one of the most frustrating things I've done in seven years [on council]."

Recommended Stories For You

"It was very messy last night," Mayor Michael Gamba admitted in an interview after the heated discussion. "It was unpleasant."

Councilor Kaup steered the conversation to one of transparency, or the lack thereof, in her opinion.

The question at hand, she said, is why the city is keeping the estimated costs of the overall project and its various phases a secret.

According to Gamba, the sole reason the estimates should not be made public revolves around the notion that it would "show Glenwood's hand" to potential contractors regarding what the city is willing to spend.

However, Councilor Jonathan Godes pointed out, "The potential benefit that we hypothetically might get by keeping these bids secret is outweighed by the lack of public participation that this process would engender."

Council ultimately voted 4-3 following a lengthy discussion against publicly disclosing the estimated costs.

Councilors Godes, Kaup and Voorhees were in favor of releasing the numbers to the public. However, Councilors Leahy, Davis, James Ingraham and Mayor Gamba killed a motion by Kaup that called for a "full, transparent disclosure on scope of the project, phasing of the project, estimated cost and possible funding sources."

Echoing Godes' opinion, Councilor Voorhees told the Post Independent in a separate interview, "In my public sector career, I've never known government to withhold information in the belief that a better deal can be had."

Voorhees also pointed out how several months ago, engineering cost estimates associated with the planned 27th Street (Sunlight) Bridge replacement were discussed in public. That raises the question of what makes this project different, he said.

In a prepared statement issued to the Post Independent Monday, Councilor Kaup also stated, "Sadly, at our last meeting, Council voted 4-3 to keep these numbers away from public scrutiny. I hope that we can bring discussion of this project into the public and will continue to work for that transparency."

Kaup added that, based on estimates last fall from the Downtown Development Authority, which has been working with the city on the project, the plan included over $8.5 million worth of amenities including streetscaping, landscaping, public sitting areas and events space for the 2-½ block strip and the under-bridge area.

"Since that time, the project scope has been scaled back, but council has not had a public discussion on scope or funding," Kaup said, adding the public should know those costs, where the funding will come from, and if it will divert funding from other projects such as the confluence and Sixth Street redevelopment efforts and the long-debated South Bridge project.

"These public discussions can be difficult but often lead to a better project in the long run," Kaup said.

Asked if any of Colorado's transparency laws were broken by not divulging the estimated cost of the Seventh Street project, Voorhees added, "I'm not a lawyer and certainly this matter hasn't been subject to legal proceeding, so I can't answer whether any law has been broken."

Kaup answered, "That is a good question and one that I am not able to answer. I would need to consult our legal counsel."

Colorado's Open Records Act "guarantees that all public records must be open for inspection by any person at a reasonable time, except as provided in CORA or as otherwise specifically provided by law."

Through its action, a majority of City Council decided it's not a "reasonable time" to disclose those numbers.