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Brighton City Council to vote on firing city manager Tuesday; petition to recall mayor approved

Posted at 2:07 PM, Jul 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-16 21:08:27-04

BRIGHTON, Colo. – A petition to recall Brighton Mayor Ken Kreutzer was approved Monday, and supporters of the recall effort will be rallying Tuesday evening ahead of the city council meeting in which the body will likely vote on whether to fire Brighton City Manager Philip Rodriguez.

Brighton City Councilman Matt Johnston and fellow council member Mary Ellen Pollack are two of the three representing the group to recall Kreutzer. The recall effort comes after the city council voted last week to place Rodriguez on administrative leave after he revealed the city had collected $70 million in water overcharges.

Kreutzer and four other council members said they had lost faith in Rodriguez over an unspecified personnel issue. Another councilman, Clint Blackhurst, said that he voted to place Rodriguez on leave because of “his leadership – or lack thereof.” Councilman Mark Humbert said that his vote went beyond the water issue and said that Rodriguez had “broken my confidence.”

Former police chief and current councilman: City Manager is incompetent

Amidst the water issue that has ruptured into a full-blown crisis, former Brighton police chief and current councilman Clint Blackhurst says Brighton residents are unfortunate victims of a constant stream of misinformation.

"There has been so much misinformation and so many allegations that are not substantiated by fact," said Blackhurst, who served as Brighton's chief of police for 22 years until retiring in 2016.

While some, like councilman Matt Johnston, allege the money came from overcharging residents in water fees, Blackhurst says that’s untrue.

“The utility departments in all Colorado cities are an enterprise fund,” Blackhurst said. “They are businesses so-to-speak. Money can’t be transferred from the utility fund to the general fund. It’s closely guarded because it’s supposed to stand on its own and pay for its own operation.”

In Brighton, that utility is made up of seven different revenue streams from water, wastewater and storm drainage.

While some of the $70 million fund does come from water fees, Blackhurst says most comes from new water taps. Essentially, new construction.

“We take in, I’m told, between $8 million and $12 million a year in water taps,” Blackhurst said. “And it must be used for specific projects - capital improvements. This year’s budget – just one year in 2019 - is $30 million.”

Blackhurst also says the city has major capital improvements on the horizon.

"We're going to have to build - within the next five years, a new treatment facility,” he said. “The cost right now is estimated at $45 to $65 million."

Blackhurst says his vote to fire Rodriguez stems from complete incompetence.

"I probably know well over 100 of the city employees,” Blackhurst said. “And, I was hearing stories about his leadership style that had me greatly concerned. In the two years since he's been there - we've lost seven directors. Seven different directors. And they've all been fired or forced to resign. I just don’t have any confidence in his leadership right now.”

Mayor: I can't in good conscience allow city manager to continue

Meantime, Mayor Ken Kreutzer said Tuesday that he's still waiting on an independent audit to determine where exactly the $70 million came from, if rates are too high and what should be done with that surplus.

“I can’t sit here and say to the people of Brighton that we can give the money back,” Kreutzer said.

He indicated more information is needed. Kreutzer said, he too, has lost confidence in Rodriguez.

But, he said the water issue and the city manager’s lack of leadership are two separate issues.

“I know it’s bad timing that the two are happening simultaneously,” Kreutzer said. “When is it ever good timing for something like this? I can’t - in good conscience - let it go on.”

But Johnston and Pollack cried foul, saying the other council members were colluding with the mayor to keep the $70 million by firing Rodriguez. Johnston, in an interview, also backed Rodriguez’s ethics.

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” he said. “Philip Rodriguez is a good man that is getting taken down by bad people at this point.”

Among the reasons for the recall effort specified in the petition, Johnston and the other two proponents said that Kreutzer is feigning knowledge of the so-called water “slush fund” but led a “delayed and muted response.” It also says that his possible firing of Rodriguez would cost taxpayers thousands.

“Kreutzer initiated a suspension and replacement of City Manager Phillip [sic] Rodriguez, the sole whistleblower in these two separate city scandals, only seven days after Mr. Rodriguez made them public,” the petition says. “Kreutzer refused to provide any reason for his action. Terminating Mr. Rodriguez without cause will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in severance pay, and potential litigation. Kreutzer also allowed two councilmembers with demonstrated conflicts of interest to vote on the suspension of Mr. Rodriguez, despite public demands of recusal.”

The group says its goal is to collect 2,000 signatures on the petition by Aug. 1. They will have 60 days to collect 1,150 valid voter signatures from Brighton.

The group is hosting a rally in support of the recall effort prior to Tuesday’s 7 p.m. city council meeting.

Denver7 will be at the rally and meeting and will update this story throughout the day.