Tom Downey, chair of the Westerly Creek Metro District (WCMD), came to last Thursday’s meeting of the Park Creek Metro District (PCMD) expecting PCMD approval of a joint resolution that would enable WCMD to pay an attorney it has engaged since January. Instead, PCMD Chair King Harris took it upon himself to remove the item from the March 23 agenda and direct further negotiations between PCMD’s attorney, Paul Cockrel, and WCMD’s attorney, Jennifer Tanaka of the law firm White Bear Ankele Tanaka & Waldron.
Downey asked Harris what provisions of the draft resolution he was objecting to. Harris declined to cite any specifics, saying only that the resolution is not consistent with the master intergovernmental agreement between the two districts. Downey said he was “dumbfounded” at Harris’ decision and complained that WCMD has been stymied since last June in its efforts to obtain independent legal and financial advice.
Harris’ action was all the more surprising given that his own board member, John Moye, had recommended to the PCMD board at its March 2 meeting that Westerly Creek be allowed to hire its own attorney and to set up a system for payment of the law firm’s invoices.
At its March 15 meeting, the WCMD board approved a revised 2017 budget that increases its potential legal expenses from $15,000 to $40,000 and sets aside smaller amounts for a “financial advisor” and board member expenses. WCMD has been incurring expenses from Tanaka since January and has been unable to pay them because of PCMD’s inaction.
The two service districts are charged with financing and constructing Stapleton’s infrastructure. WCMD is referred to as the financing district because it imposes the metro district mill levy that pays for “local” or non-trunk infrastructure. Those tax dollars are then passed on to PCMD to pay for the construction of roads, alleys, drainage, landscaping, water and sewer lines, pocket parks and pools. In 2016, for the first time, all members of the WCMD board are Stapleton residents while the PCMD board, in its service plan, is mandated to be comprised of two developer representatives and three members selected by the Stapleton Development Corporation.
The dispute, in some sense, reflects changing circumstances in Stapleton as the massive redevelopment nears build-out. When redevelopment began 17 years ago, no one was living in Stapleton and as a result, membership of the two service districts’ boards was dominated by representatives of the developer, Forest City. Now, the resident property owners on the WCMD board believe their fiduciary responsibility to district taxpayers requires that they obtain legal and financial advice separate from that provided to PCMD. While the PCMD attorney, Paul Cockrel, has, until recently, also served as legal counsel to WCMD, Cockrel told the WCMD board at a joint meeting in January that his first allegiance is to PCMD.