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Erie trustees raise concerns over mayor's selection process of consultant hire

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Posted at 9:45 PM, Jul 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-31 01:34:58-04

ERIE, Colo. — Multiple members of Erie’s Board of Trustees have raised concerns over the mayor’s actions during a selection process to hire a consultant to put together a new comprehensive plan for the town.

Two members of the elected Board of Trustees spoke with Denver7 Investigates about their issues with Mayor Jennifer Carroll. They claim she acted unethically and attempted to manipulate a voting system that was set up prior to hearing presentations from three finalist consultant firms in May.

“The mayor needs to answer for her behavior on this,” said Christiaan Van Woudenberg, one of seven board members who represent the growing town of roughly 30,000 that straddles Weld and Boulder counties.

According to open records requests filed by Van Woudenberg that were shared with Denver7, Carroll failed to turn in a portion of her 40-question score sheet on time. The scores would be used to select a consultant for the comprehensive plan, which serves as a guideline for future development. The plan is slated to cost $400,000 and includes grant money received from the state’s Department of Local Affairs.

Voters were to include all members of the Board of Trustees and the town’s appointed planning commission as well as an advisory committee made of select town staff. The voting process was formulated by a steering committee made up by some trustees, planning commissioners and town staff.

After votes were due, the mayor sent in her first, second and third choices for the consultant position. But after asking for and receiving the preliminary vote totals before they were released, she asked if she could finish and submit the rest of her ballot, saying she believed it would have an effect on the results.

She then texted other members of the board, stating that she is not comfortable going with the current top pick and urged another trustee to submit his scores and encouraged him to give his top pick a perfect score and his bottom pick the lowest possible score.

“The text said to basically give perfect scores to the person that she wanted to win,” Trustee Brandon Bell said.

This is what Van Woudenberg and Bell are calling an ethical breach as they feel Carroll wasn’t evaluating the firms fairly and stacking the vote to either ensure the firm she wished was in first place or at least that her bottom choice -- which led after results were initially in -- was not selected for the job.

“It’s obvious that this wasn't a good-faith participation by the mayor, that she waited until everybody else's vote had been submitted, that she saw those scores and then submitted her own scores to select the consultant that she wanted,” Van Woudenberg said.

Bell called it “another black eye for the town.”

“If you want my personal opinion, I believe she scored it in a way to get the results she wanted,” Bell added.

Both Van Woudenberg and Bell questioned why Carroll waited until after learning of the results to cast her vote and to recruit another trustee to do the same.

Emails from the open records request show Carroll telling a town staffer that she had “some family issues” and wasn’t able to fill out the spreadsheet in its entirety.

Carroll declined an interview with Denver7 and provided a statement:

“Erie has an unfortunate tradition of manufactured distractions in the months leading up to our elections. The disproven accusations of bid rigging and collusion are the outcome of relying on Google for legal advice and ignoring advice from the Town’s legal experts.”

Town Administrator Malcolm Fleming told Denver7 that he felt the process got convoluted and that the optics do not look good.

Last week, he decided to hire an independent law firm to review the process. He referenced allegations of “bid-rigging” as a reason, but feels that this does not qualify as rigging.

“I thought it was appropriate to have a legal firm involved in reviewing that allegation,” Fleming said. “I don't think there is anything that substantiates that allegation.”

He added that he felt the mayor should answer questions and explain her actions during the process and that he would not have called the situation a “manufactured distraction.”

“I know those are her words, I would not use those words myself,” he said. “I don't know the motivations behind the people who are making those accusations."

Fleming said he hopes the investigation will be wrapped up within five weeks and expects to present a full report on Sept. 7.

“I am extremely sad. This is disappointing,” Bell said. “I think that this is beneath her, I think she is a better person than to have gone to these lengths to get the result she wanted."