AURORA | City Manager George “Skip” Noe issued a memo to Mayor Steve Hogan and other members of City Council Feb. 5 after being given a list of questions to answer after a contentious workshop in Broomfield that spent hours discussing his leadership and performance.
The memo — provided to the Sentinel after the audio of the meeting was obtained via open records request earlier this month — outlines the status of a few city initiatives that were mentioned, as well as two very pointed questions suggesting that Noe was keeping information from council and playing favorites in handling council requests.
Hogan advocated at the workshop to assemble the list of questions to ask Noe after it became clear that a number of council members felt the question of Noe’s continued employment should be addressed before tackling specific council agenda items. The suggestion drew immediate concerns from some of the council members present.
“I think that Skip is a consummate bureaucrat and he knows how to cover his ass pretty well,” Ward I Councilwoman Sally Mounier said. “And I can’t, I cannot trust anything that he will say unless I can get it verified like they did in Watergate.”
Hogan pointed out he was attempting to “facilitate a way” to move ahead.
“If you all who don’t like him want to try something new to convince those who do that their view is incorrect, I’m just trying to come up with an information base that might help to clarify,” Hogan said. “That’s all, and all I can think of is a list of questions. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”
ON THE RECORD
The first question posed to Noe was on a lack of reports on the Fan Fare initiative. The vacant lot at 333 Havana St. drew criticism from multiple council members at the workshop. The city purchased the 10.3-acre site in 2013 for $4 million, and the Aurora Urban Renewal Authority has worked in recent years to recruit a possible site developer.
Noe’s response in his Feb. 5 memo couched the general displeasure from council as a “misunderstanding about the time frame” for the project, pointing out that demolition and environmental mitigation “took a long time.” Noe also said that city staff working on the project to schedule regular updates for Ward III Councilwoman Marsha Berzins going forward.
The council’s second question, prompted by concerns from At-Large Councilwoman Barb Cleland, asked why the council did not have a recent status report on the city’s marketing plan, which was launched in early 2015 after hiring Denver-based marketing agency Adrenalin to develop an ad campaign.
Noe replied that an update was already scheduled to go to the council’s public relations, communications and tourism committee later that month and that he “will be happy to comply” to revise the timing of staff updates on the marketing plan.
The third question, perhaps the most pointed of the five in underscoring the distrust some council members expressed, asked Noe “what is being kept from us?”
“This question directly implies that information is being kept from Council, which is not true,” Noe replied in his memo. “I am not aware of any matter that is being intentionally withheld from Council, most certainly nothing that is part of the Council’s responsibility as the elected governing body persuant to the City Charter.”
Noe pointed to a reworking of the City Manager’s Memo to help better inform council members, as well as the creation of the Policy and Project Update for similar ends.
“Unfortunately, the extreme pace of activity at this time makes it challenging to keep Council informed in a timely matter on all matters … I can assure you that any failure to communicate on all your interests is a function of time and the press of business as opposed to any intent to withhold information,” Noe wrote.
Council’s penultimate question — regarding the City Attorney’s office not reviewing a contract in early 2015 for Police Chief Nick Metz — was answered by Noe by clarifying the question itself: That Metz does not have a contract, and only signed to accept an offer letter.
“All of the elements of the offer letter are within my authority as City Manager,” Noe wrote. “None of the ‘offer letters’ done by the City of Aurora have been reviewed by the City Attorney’s Office,” adding that the council approved Noe’s appointment of Metz as chief and that the use of offer letters is a standard practice for many municipal governments hiring similar positions.
Finally, Noe was pressed on the question of playing favorites in the fifth question when asked, “Are inquiries from ‘minority’ being responded to with the same dispatch as the majority – please address?”
Noe wrote that he is “committed to providing all Council Members with responsive support” and suggested that city staff have put forward a “great deal” of effort on projects in the wards of the council members known to not support him, including Stanley Marketplace, the planned redevelopment of Regatta Plaza and the purchase of a lot of land on Dayton Street where day laborers regularly gather.
Noe then used his response to claim that “several council members have not met with me to discuss their issues and projects” in the past year, and as a result asserted that there may be requests he is unaware of if they had been discussed with another member of staff. Noe closed his memo by saying he “would welcome the opportunity to meet with each council member individually on a regular basis” to handle requests and provide timely responses.
In an email statement Feb. 23, Noe said he is “always happy to provide information to council on city operations and activities,” and said that he did not receive any feedback on it from council since responding to the questions.
Weeks after Noe issued his memo in response to the workshop questions, little has changed for both sides of the debate over him.
Supporters on council such as At-Large Councilman Bob LeGare remain adamant that this issue should be put behind them, but that it won’t be easy.
“I do not see a solution. It’s not as though the city has stopped its operations over this,” LeGare said. “As a city council, city management and staff, we’ve gotten an awful lot done in the past couple of years. It’s up to each elected official to choose the way they’re going to act and respond and conduct business. I’ll leave it up to the public to decide who’s right and who’s wrong.”
Fellow At-Large Councilman Brad Pierce was insistent that the list of questions was the right way to move ahead from the workshop.
“I think it was fair. Skip had a chance to respond to those statements … I wanted Skip to respond to those statements,” Pierce said. “I’m in favor of having him stay on. I don’t see any reason to change my mind. If you’re going to make accusations about somebody, that somebody has a chance to respond.”
Councilwoman Barb Cleland noted that the debate over Noe has torn at personal relationships, juxtaposing the current state of the council with the Supreme Court justices.
“Their philosophical ideas are vehemently different, yet those nine judges — when they take their robes off, they are friends, they respect each other and they are genuinely concerned about one another,” Cleland said. “That is the way Aurora City Council used to be. It is no longer that way. I just think it is very sad. … we need to pull it together but have respect for one another’s ideology.”