“It seems to me this is the third time you’ve brought this topic up, rename Stapleton. We all voted on it. Who’s driving this issue for a change?”
A hand shot up to ask that question at a recent Stapleton community meeting upon hearing a ballot would be sent to all property owners in Stapleton, asking if they want to change the name of the community.
That questioner sounded like he had been one of the 452 voters who cast a ballot on the question of changing Stapleton United Neighbors’ name in May 2018.
But this is the first vote on whether to change the legal document that contains the name Stapleton. That document is the Community Declaration and it governs the Master Community Association (MCA).
At that community meeting, Councilman Chris Herndon pointed out that voter turnout in almost all Stapleton precincts in the recent city election was above 50%—outpacing the city’s overall rate of 43%. MCA Executive Director Keven Burnett says the return of ballots for MCA delegate elections has rarely reached 10%. To encourage voter turnout for this important decision, stamped, self-addressed envelopes are being sent out to property owners for all of the 10,563 eligible votes in this election.
UPDATE TO PRINTED ARTICLE 5/31/19:
“Why can only property owners vote and why only one vote per property owner?”
The legal document creating the Stapleton community is based on the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act of 1973 (CCIOA) that has governed condo associations and planned communities in the state since that time. It is based on uniform statutes used throughout the country that are adopted by states. It allows the Master Community Association (MCA) to assess fees, place a lien, or foreclose on properties—and it establishes the basis for voting. An annual election for delegates has occurred each fall—fewer than 10% of property owners have returned ballots in those elections. Changes to the voting process would require a change in state law.
Why is this vote happening now?
Concerns about the name were raised as early as 2000 even before homes were built in Stapleton. Fast forward to 2015. Black Lives Matter distributed flyers door-to-door, raising awareness in the community that Mayor Benjamin Stapleton had been a member of the KKK. In November 2017, Rename St*pleton for All registered as a non-profit corporation and organized their supporters to attend Stapleton community group meetings to “advocate for renaming public spaces that honor Denver’s former mayor Ben Stapleton,” according to their website. The boards of several community groups did decide, after much discussion, to drop Stapleton from their names.
Rename St*pleton for All did their homework and learned the MCA executive board has the power to recommend a name change. And they learned that MCA delegates advise the board and choose delegates to be on the board. They found a slate of candidates to run for the MCA district delegate seats and advocate for the name change through the MCA board.
“The delegates have it in their power to recommend to the executive board if they would like to change the name. It’s written into their role. This is the process in the governance of the community to do this…they actually have it in their Community Declarations,” says Liz Stalnaker the chair of the Rename board.
Two people from the Rename slate got elected as delegates, and “there were 4 of 11 districts where Forest City votes either won outright or swung the election,” says delegate Tom Downey, one of the delegates from the Rename slate who got elected. The Rename group checked the votes and objected to the outcome, saying it was unfair that Forest City was allowed to cast multiple votes on a single ballot when residential owners had to cast separate ballots for each property owned.
Incumbent delegates’ response to rename efforts
Delegate Josh Nicholas is in his third term as a delegate. He volunteered to become a delegate when he saw that his district had no one listed on the 2017 ballot. He describes the meetings up until six months ago as collegial conversations about how they could make the community better—discussing how to improve MCA events and issues associated with pools, parks and snow removal in alleys.
Yuri Tavbin says, “We found out that the agenda of Rename Stapleton was to get their own people put on just so they could push the idea to the Executive Board. They also wanted to get their own people on the Executive Board so that they could go ahead and change the name without any input from the community.”
MCA delegate meetings became tense and controversial over the past six months as the Rename group pursued their goal of a name change. The incumbent delegates were in agreement that their role was to represent the community and it wasn’t right to recommend a name change without soliciting feedback from the community. Nicholas says they felt the Rename folks were portraying them in a negative light for not wanting the board to change the name.
Another neighborhood group, Brave Coalition, whose mission is to build more inclusive communities, stepped into the discussion to support the name change. Spokesperson Lisa Abuogi said of the tense meetings, “Sometimes discussion of conflict is an important part of building inclusion. We know that in our own families. We have to work our way through that and that’s not a bad thing and it doesn’t mean we can’t come together as a community.”
More community education needed?
Downey, Stalnaker and Abuogi all say they would like to see the community go through a process like DSST: Stapleton (now DSST: Montview) went through in the past two years to change its name.
Teachers planned units on the history of the neighborhood, the airport, Mayor Ben Stapleton and the KKK, says Stefanie Gilary DSST manager of communications. The students wrote essays where they were allowed to respectfully lay out their feelings based on what they had learned. After a semester of study, the school had a morning-long meeting where they listened to pro-con arguments. “Plenty of students changed their minds when they found out that they had classmates who were genuinely hurt or scared by the name, even if it didn’t seem logical,” says Gilary.
After a vote showed about 60% wanted to change the name, they began the process of choosing a new name. The administration provided guidance and the final choices were location based: DSST: Montview and DSST: Central Park. Montview won out because DSST: Conservatory Green is located on Central Park Blvd.
Stalnaker says, “…this (vote) is something that was initiated by the MCA delegates. We have worked with the MCA delegates to make the wording of the referendum as fair as possible…I think there’s a piece missing. There’s a lot of room for improvement in delegates’ engaging with their community.”
Tavbin says, “We were all blindsided by the Rename Stapleton folks. It really was a hostile takeover. And yet we still decided to go through with finding out what the community wants, because, as delegates, it’s not our tradition to make decisions. We’re just the voice of the people that live there.” Then, after six months discussing this issue, trying to come to agreement on the ballot language, the Rename folks said they now want to hold off on the vote says Nicholas.
Though Downey believes when people have more time to learn about the history, “far more people say, ‘Yes, it’s worth doing a name change,’” he voted with the six other delegates at a late May meeting to send out the ballot, saying, “I voiced my disagreement in the meetings, but what I didn’t want to do was delay and delay over language…Now it’s at the point I’d rather just have closure on this issue.”
Details about the vote follow below, including how to contact delegates. Information about the groups supporting a name change can be found at bravecoalition.com/blog and renameforall.com. Delegate contact information: http://www.stapletoncommunity.com/mca-info/community-delegates
THE FOLLOWING IS BALLOT INFORMATION PROVIDED BY THE STAPLETON MCA —TO BE MAILED TO PROPERTY OWNERS BY JUNE 12, 2019
As you may know, for as long as there has been this development there has been a movement to drop the name “Stapleton” because of its historical association with the Ku Klux Klan. The latest effort to change the name is by a number of residents and non-residents affiliated with “Rename St*pleton for All.” As a name change is a major decision, the MCA District Delegates ask for your direction on how to vote on this issue.
In 2002, Forest City Stapleton filed the Community Declaration that established the new community at the former Stapleton airport site.
That document states the “initial name” of the master community will be STAPLETON, and it sets forth an express process for how the name can be changed within the 20-year developer control period. Delegates may recommend a name change to the MCA Board of Directors. The Directors may then approve the name change and a full vote of the MCA membership (property owners) would not be required. Brookfield, the master developer, has the power to veto that decision, but has said they will accept the Board recommendation.
According to the Community Declaration, when the developer control period ends in May 2022, a name change will require a majority vote of all owners. Approval of question #3 on this ballot would mean the express option for a name change by the Board would end after this vote (rather than in 2022), and any future vote on a name change would have to be approved by more than 50% of all property owners.
Changing the name at this point would NOT change historical legal documents such as plat maps, sub-associations, or property deeds for communities in existence, but it would change the name on all future legal documents. In addition, the MCA would use and promote the new name officially.
To that end, the MCA, by and through the Delegates, is requesting your vote on whether to proceed with a process to find a new name and make the change.
Argument For the Change
To residents, we are your neighbors; to businesses, we are your customers; to schools, we are your students and the parents of your students. We want you to know that we did not initiate this “referendum” process, as we believe that more community engagement on the issue should occur before members or delegates vote. However, since you are being asked to vote now, we ask you to vote: (1) in favor of renaming our community to something we can be proud of, (2) in opposition to a special assessment for expenses, (3) whatever name you think would be best for the community, and (4) in opposition to an amendment to eliminate this renaming process in the future.
Here are the facts: The former airport was named to honor Denver Mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton, Member #1128 of the KKK. During the 1920s in Denver, the Klan controlled politicians and terrorized religious and ethnic minorities. In 1923, when critics learned Stapleton was a Klansman, a recall election occurred. He needed Klan support to keep his seat. Thus, Stapleton promised: “I will work with the Klan and for the Klan in the coming election. And if I am re-elected, I shall give the Klan the kind of administration it wants.” Stapleton survived recall and appointed Klansmen to significant city positions.
Leading historian of the era, Professor Robert Goldberg, recently stated: “Stapleton never ‘publicly split’ from the Klan. He did not fire all of the Klan members in his administration—only those loyal to John Galen Locke [then the Colorado KKK Grand Dragon]. I never found a public apology or statement of regret from Ben Stapleton regarding his membership in the Klan nor his willingness to allow Klan members in his administration to administer Hooded justice or policy. I found no amends, significant or otherwise.”
As far back as 2001, people of color in our community have described how it is personally hurtful to them that the place where their families live continues to use the name of a Klansman. Over the past two years, local organizations have dropped the name. Most recently—after a years-long process involving research, thoughtful discussion, and the vote of their students—DSST has removed the name from its school and renamed itself DSST Montview. Let’s build on their momentum. We can face the truth about history and make a principled decision about whom we honor with our community name. Join us in voting to change the name. For more information, visit www.renameforall.com.
Argument Against the Change
The community of Stapleton derived its name from the site of Denver’s former airport that, after 65 years, was moved to the present site that is DIA. The following is an excerpt from the Stapleton Green Book in which the community’s values are outlined: “Stapleton will be part of the legacy left to future generations. It provides a model for addressing the economic and social needs of all people while respecting our natural world; it is a legacy in which we can all be proud. We benefit daily from the beauty and opportunity created by the visions of DeBoer, Speer, Cranmer and so many others over the last century.”
Denver Municipal Airport was opened in 1929, spearheaded by the then Mayor Benjamin Stapleton and the Parks Dept. Manager Charles Vail, and renamed “Stapleton Airfield” in 1944 in honor of Mayor Stapleton. While it is true that Stapleton was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and was supported by them in his first election in 1923, only two years later, in April 1925, he publicly split from the organization and most notably fired his police chief and other Klan members from his administration. He ran for re-election in 1927 without the Klan’s support and also successfully for state auditor and then three more times for mayor. The Klan era was an ugly period but he evolved and sought change, as did our city, our state and our country. He accomplished great things as mayor, and our community should not lose its iconic name because of one short period of his past for which he made significant amends.
A name change would impose an unnecessary financial burden on the MCA, which will be assumed by homeowners. Initial estimates to implement these changes are approximately $300,000. Beyond the legal fees of a name change, the MCA would need to change the logo, update the website, change the physical signs throughout the community, and conduct an expensive communications effort to educate the public. This money would be better spent replacing outdated playground structures, upgrading our pools and improving our parks.
The name “Stapleton” does not advocate the decisions made by an individual almost a century ago. Instead, it demonstrates that change and looking forward can be positive. It is important to remember what happened in the past, but we cannot live in it. “Stapleton” is an iconic name and a wonderful community that is inclusive of all. An airport or even a mayor do not define what this community is today; we do. Delegate contact information: http://www.stapletoncommunity.com/mca-info/community-delegates.