Lakewood’s top 10 news events of 2009
LAKEWOOD – The year brought a number of significant changes in the city, the county and the state including a change of the guard at City Hall, mixed results in the quest for government transparency, the loss of two major civic leaders, the city’s 40th anniversary, declining tax revenues, the recommended closure of O’Connell Middle School and the promise and pitfalls of light rail plans.
The selections for 2009’s Top Ten stories are:
The national economic slowdown crimped budgets, both public and private, forcing homes into foreclosure and businesses into failure. The recession ate into city revenues, and City Council turned to reserves to make up for budget shortfalls. Council dipped into its savings to the tune of $5.2 million, 20 percent of the reserve’s 2008 total, to shore up the 2009 and 2010 budgets.
The national economic slump, though, brought millions in federal Recovery Act stimulus funds to the city for roads, bridges, refurbishing and remarketing foreclosed residential properties and other projects.
Mike Rock resigned as City Manager, retiring after 17 years as the city’s lead administrator. During that time, Rock’s leadership was considered “iron-fisted and self-serving” by his critics and “visionary and dedicated” by his friends. Rock’s pro-development, new-urbanism concept of city government as an agent for social change resulted in urban renewal powers for City Council.
Tax-incentives subsidized the redevelopment of the aging Villa Italia shopping mall as the Belmar retail district and the designation of blight and on-going major redevelopment plans along Colfax from Sheridan Boulevard to Simms Street. But other renewal projects floated by Rock’s team ran aground, one after news reports found a blight study to be flawed and misleading and another after the state legislature intervened to remove lack of sales tax production as a condition of blight.
The approach of FasTracks light rail service brought pitfalls and problems along with its promise of economic development, construction jobs and worry-free future commuting. Along with the street closures, condemnations and cutbacks in the 12.1 miles rail project came a City Hall proposal to allow RTD and other transportation providers to obtain “letters of compliance” stating that unresolved zoning issues would be considered exempt.
That proposal caused such a backlash that City Council altered its original proposal just before it came to a public hearing. The final version approved by Council left the issue in the hands of the property owner, not the agency exercising eminent domain powers.
Two long-time civic leaders, former Councilwoman Dorothy Wisecarver and former Mayor Bill Reitler, died in November.
Wisecarver, known as “the Mayor of Meadowlark” neighborhood, took her battles for citizens and their pocketbooks to the streets, the ballot box and often to Council Chambers. She fought tax increases, subsidies and favors for developers and threats to neighborhoods and small businesses, worked on dozens of political campaigns and was instrumental in ending Lakewood’s sales tax on groceries.
Former Mayor Charles William “Bill” Reitler, who helped shape the city and it’s government, died at 83. Reitler founded Reitler & Co, a real estate and development firm, which operated mostly in the Lakewood area and was instrumental in the formation of the Lakewood City Charter Commission, which compiled the parameters that still regulate city government. Voters approved the Charter in Reitler’s last year as mayor.
O’Connell Middle School enters the New Year with its existence as place of learning endangered by the recommendation of a Facilities Use Committee appointed by the Jefferson County School Board. The proposal, one of eight school closings recommended by the group, goes to the Board for consideration later this month as part of a plan that could save taxpayers an estimated $5.88 million a year if approved. The district-wide recommendations also include a proposal that would move Devinney Elementary School’s 6th graders to the recently expanded Dunstan Middle School next door.
Transparency advocates fought on a number of fronts, finding mixed success. At the state level, Gov. Ritter ordered a broad-brush approach that provides a shallow look at the state’s revenues and spending. Ritter’s executive order establishing the Transparency Online Project later was written into law by the legislature, but the resulting website falls far short of the concept pushed by a diverse grass-roots coalition. It also has irritated legislative sponsors who expected more detail.
On the county level, the Jefferson County School District went on-line with a searchable database detailing the district’s finances and county commissioners authorized development of Transparent Jeffco. Both sites drew praise from transparency advocates and likely will become the models for future state legislation, according to critics of Ritter’s TOP site.
A severe summer storm hit Lakewood and surrounding areas in July, leaving about $350 million in damage caused by high winds, hail and rain, according to insurance industry estimates. The storm resulted in 39,200 claims for residential damage and 19,500 automobile claims and left 90,000 homes without power, some of them for as much as five days. The storm also brought a flurry of repair scams to the area, prompting consumer alerts.
Swine flu struck Colorado early in its first appearance since the 1970s, part of a worldwide outbreak of the Novel H1N1 influenza strain. The disease was unexpectedly virulent among younger people and forced a number of school closings in Jeffco. As of Dec. 26, the latest figure available, H1N1 flu had killed 59 people in Colorado, nine of them kids. The illness had forced 1,981 people into hospitals statewide, including 133 in Jeffco.
The illness apparently peaked in late October after an early summer start and continues to decline. But health officials remained wary of its return at year’s end.
City Council races brought two new members – Ward 4’s Dave Wiechman and Ward 2’s Scott Koop – to City Council and returned Ward 5 incumbent Diana Allen to office in the three contested campaigns. Council members Vicki Stack, Ward 1, and Sue King, Ward 3 had no challengers.
Voters also elected Laura Boggs and Peggy Noonan, to School Board seats, ousting incumbents Sue Marinelli and Rick Rush. Robin Johnson, who was appointed to the School Board last summer after the resignation of Scott Benefield, ran unopposed.
Ballot questions on adding third terms for some elected Jeffco officials were defeated in the November election.
Lakewood citizens round out the list year’s newsmakers, pitching in to save lives and property; taking causes under their wings; and helping neighbors and the community as a whole.
From Sarah Carmody and her son, Quinn, who saved a 5-year-old girl from drowning in a crowded apartment pool to Johnny’s New York Pizza, which donated pizzas to the homeless using a lost bet on the Broncos as a front for a charitable philosophy, our citizens and businesses came forward.
Hundreds helped their neighbors during the aftermath of the devastating summer storm and the more routine digging out after the snow. Others volunteered at schools, mentoring scholars and athletes, manning booths at school fairs, markets and athletic events. Others donated their time to city boards and commissions, civic causes and political campaigns. They are the newsmakers that most affect Lakewood.