Archived Ants
« ISSUE #147: Cautiously ExuberANT .. with an Election Looming 1/29/19 | Main | ISSUE #145: tANTalizing Election Results 12/3/18 »

ISSUE #146: We cAN'T Take Barwick Any Longer

"Will people ever be wise enough to refuse to follow bad leaders or to take away the freedom of other people?"

                               -- Eleanor Roosevelt



Steve Barwick
City Manager
City of Aspen

cc: Citizens of Aspen & Readers of The Red Ant

Dear Mr. Barwick,
It's time for you to go.  For years you have "led" the City of Aspen like a lazy consultant, directing staff to pursue idealistic pet projects with no eye toward fiscal restraint, and serving as overlord to the feckless city councils the voters of Aspen have put into office, despite that by law, you report to them.  Your ineptitude spans years, as outlined here in Issue #41 (circa 2010), timed for when you sought and were granted a $170K/year contract despite your demonstrated poor performance. Sadly, for Aspen, nearly a decade later, nothing has changed, and your bad decisions continue to plague our community to this day.

Each election cycle, various candidates espouse their desire to show you the door, but whether it's intimidation or just stupidity, once on council, these former campaigners ignore their promises to hold you to account.  Those days are numbered, Pal.  If you don't think your ongoing employment is going to be a MAJOR 2019 campaign issue, I am here to tell you otherwise. I am going to make it one.  And yes, that will definitely include bouncing you from your city-owned housing on Cemetery Lane.
You are infamous for the $18 million BMC lumberyard purchase in 2008, at the height of the economic downturn.  That you made this purchase without an appraisal and paid nearly twice (as local lore has it) what the sellers were willing to take, makes you the fool for all time.  The fact that this expensive parcel sits, undeveloped (for housing) a decade later is a travesty.  And that's before we get into the millions wasted on the attempted hydro plant, including the $1.5 million custom turbine that you ordered before the project was approved (which it never was) that gathers dust to this day.  Where?  Ironically, at the lumberyard. Of course! Your idiocy and incompetence spans decades now.  Recall how: 
  • In 2005 you intentionally misled voters with a city brochure for Burlingame subsidized housing that stated there would be a $62,500 per unit taxpayer subsidy when in reality it was closer to $400,000 per unit. And this wasn't a "brochure error," as you stated when trying to make excuses for the ridiculous discrepancy; you personally promoted the $62,500 in the media and then later even tried denying that the city ever used that number!!
  • You enabled the Burlingame housing project to be built (by the city) without a budget, unless of course you count the one on a McDonald's napkin, that resulted in over $75 million in unexpected costs.
  • You led, oversaw and continue to lead wasteful expenditures of millions of dollars of public funds on unrealistic, ill-conceived, cart-before-the-horse failed projects and programs such as the ZG Master Plan, the Main Street Median, geo-thermal drilling experiments, and 2019's in-the-works war on cars experiment called "the Mobility Lab."
  • You enabled and approved, then later defended the use of city employee "purchase cards" for meals at Aspen restaurants totaling more than $250,000 in 2007 and 2008.
  • You gave "free housing for life" at a city-owned ranchette (valued at over $14 million) to the city public works manager in order to keep him from leaving Aspen for a job elsewhere.
  • You attempted to have an Aspen citizen "punished" by the local Rotary Club for dissenting with the local government, despite his constitutional right to do just that.
  • You oversee and encourage a culture of intimidation in city hall, where public records searches and general harassment plague those who "align" with The Red Ant, who own historic properties and may wish to re-develop, who place political signs in their yards, and who work for the local government yet resist publicly speaking out for fear of losing their jobs.
  • Your 2008 $26 million "land-banking" spree has yet to yield a single subsidized housing unit.
  • You "lost" $475,000 in an off-the-books deal with the developers of Obermeyer Place pertaining to public improvements.  (No records were kept nor were the funds ever discovered.)
  • You enabled the city to fraudulently collect parking fees from 2008-2011, beyond the 10a - 6p paid parking window, and blamed software for the enormous financial windfall, yet never revealed the amount.
  • You enabled the city to get bilked for over $800K over 4 years by parking scofflaws who exploited a widely-known fault in the city's parking meters (using zero-ed out debit cards as methods of payment for parking). Yes, this is different from the 2008-2011 over-charging debacle!
  • You assigned the city's auditor to audit the city's internal revenue collection and management systems in 2014 after "Parking-Gate," until public outcry forced you to relent and hire an independent 3rdparty auditor.
  • You oversaw the RFP process for a suitable non-profit tenant for the Old Power House, that in the end was awarded to a for-profit group to use the facility as a brewery and event space ... until the neighbors shut the concept down.
  • You supervised the disruptive 2018 "narrowing" of the Castle Creek Bridge (Aspen's notorious transportation choke-point) in order to create a dubious lane for pedestrians and bicycles, to the tune of $TBD millions (the numbers aren't yet finalized).
  • You tried to award an $800K contract to Lyft for subsidized ride-sharing services during the summer of 2019 to support your "war on cars," but local transportation providers and citizens spiked it.
  • You agreed to add 11 new city employees (and $1 million in payroll) in FY 2019 because of the financial windfall that puts the city's annual budget at $120 million/year.  If you've got it, flaunt it, right?
  • You approved the addition of a new $158K/year communications director position to specifically work to better publicly convey the city's myriad "initiatives." Did you ever contemplate that the core issue is that the initiatives just stink??
(Ok, you get the idea.  In Aspen, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Promise one thing, and 2-3 years later, deliver something else after everyone has forgotten the original deal.)

The most recent proof that you have outlived any modicum of usefulness is illustrated by the unfathomable deal you struck earlier this year with Aspen Housing Partners (AHP), an out-of-state developer who hoodwinked you and council into paying a $2.7 million developer fee for building 45 subsidized housing units on three separate parcels.  I wrote about this terrible deal earlier this year in Issue #139. This developer promised to build the complexes, secure 9% federal low income housing tax credits on all three parcels, and manage the facilities for 15 years.  But then you didn't require him to do that.  He didn't even go through the brain damage of applying for the 9% credits (there was no way these projects would ever qualify).  In the end, he could only deliver a non-competitive 4% credit on a single parcel.  And, in your zeal for subsidized housing, and with the embarrassment of riches in the city's coffers, you additionally agreed to finance the projects for the developer at 2% per annum.  (The developer has been laughing publicly for months at his incredible loan terms at Aspen's Bank of Barwick.) 
For nearly a year now, nothing has happened.  No ground has been broken, no housing is in sight.  That is, until last week when your assistant and henchman, aptly-named Barry Crook, sprung a 289-page document on the housing board.  In the eleventh hour, you tried to force APCHA into becoming an operating partner in your bad deal with AHP so that the city would benefit from the housing authority's non-profit status and receive millions of dollars in tax breaks.  The dense partnership agreement contained no proformas and no financial contributions to APCHA for its costs associated with taking 45 more units into inventory, dealing with qualifications, deed restrictions, legal costs and operational management.  What happened to the developer's promise to manage the units?  Now you're off-loading that responsibility onto APCHA with no compensation?  We've all known for nearly a year what a loser this deal is for the city.  Without the promised tax credits, the costs skyrocketed.  Of course they did. That should never have been a surprise.  I certainly told you so.  To go to the housing authority mere days before finalizing the construction loans and development agreements with Shaw Construction was both desperate and shameful.  And, good for the housing board for calling you out.
Want a reminder of how the AHP deal "sausage" was made? HERE is a mind-numbing waste of time that illustrates your incompetence in action.  (It's a city PR puff piece featuring the AHP principal and the city of Aspen housing asset manager, touting the projects.)  Notably:
  • At 2 minutes: Bradshaw (AHP) brags that his group brings a source of capital in the form of tax credits and debt so the city does not need to use its own money for the project.  In reality, the tax credits yielded far less than promised.  And the city is now providing most of the development capital at 2%.
  • At 5:32: Bradshaw indicates that his group will be responsible for all cost overruns.  If this is the case, why is the city responsible for the sales and use taxes on construction materials?  Who exactly now covers the cost overruns????
  • At 14 minutes: Bradshaw describes how he first got involved with Aspen through a "call to Barry Crook."  Interesting that immediately after that call, the city put this project out to bid and presto - AHP magically won the RFP.  What a coincidence?!?! 
  • At 22:30: Bradshaw says his group will operate the units for 15 years and only then would it be necessary for APCHA to become involved (once the tax credit period is over).
Somehow, the city hall housing development "brain trust" of you and Crook missed the basic fact that private developers are not exempt from sales, use and property taxes.  And since the city agreed to the developer's terms that puts the responsibility for cost increases on the city rather than the developer, why would the developer point this out? What will surely be millions in additional costs will be borne by Aspen's taxpayers because you failed to include a tax-exempt developer partner in the deal from the start!
It takes a particularly acute form of unaccountability to send a minion to face the criticism that you deserve, but that's exactly what you did last Tuesday.  Unwilling to stand up and admit responsibility and be accountable for your team's failure, you sent asset manager Chris Everson, hat in hand, to beg the APCHA board to bail you out for your incompetence.  After years of being treated like mushrooms (that is, being kept in the dark and being fed nothing but BS), the APCHA board said NO, and delayed a vote on your lame proposal.
APCHA's final decision today should be NO as well.  Here's why.  The city of Aspen is a tax-exempt corporation.  The APCHA board should recommend to council that the city take on the responsibility that your staff and the developer are trying to foist on the housing authority.  And then let's see what council has to say about that! Recall how YOU promised the clueless city council that they would not bear the risk of being a developer, but you are now trying to pass off that risk to another organization at no benefit to them, while gaining the financial benefit of their agreement - a benefit you and your team should have identified at the beginning but only figured out at the very end.  THIS is definitely not how a competent, reputable leader treats his partners. It's simply disgraceful.
Your incompetence is breathtaking.  As it stands, the AHP developer still gets his $2.7 million fee.  For what exactly?  It's clearly not because he has delivered on what he promised in his bid.  He promised far more than he ever intended to do and is now getting paid the same amount anyway.  Furthermore, did you just now recognize that you need a non-profit partner to save millions in development costs in the absence of the promised tax credits?  The fact that the city will now have to eat those additional costs (as opposed to the developer doing so) is a shining example of how poorly you manage the city and the millions of dollars of taxpayer funds you are responsible for.  (The current city budget is $120 million/year.) And just watch, the projected costs of the developments are going to skyrocket.  There will be significant construction cost over-runs.  As I told you before, two of the complexes are on very steep slopes with challenging soil conditions, which will create great technical challenges.  Since you are the bank, just watch and see, the developer will most certainly be back for more money.
(And how was it that the city came to select Aspen Housing Partners as the developer for these parcels? There were locally-led bidders who proposed reasonable solutions and were willing to deliver what they proposed, but they were passed over in favor of an unknown outside entity - with no track of housing success in the valley - who offered the moon.  And the city agreed to contracts that allowed him to get paid regardless of what is ultimately delivered - terms that let the developer off at every turn.  All because of Steve Barwick.)
The housing board* is absolutely right to hold you and your minions accountable.  Finally someone is. And it's about time! You have always viewed the housing office as merely an instrument of your political goals, never a true partner in housing development and management.
*Hey, APCHA board, I know you have a meeting on this today. Kill any "deal" that foists this responsibility on you, even if it includes a sweet "bribe" from Barwick in the form of cash (rumored to be $150K - $400K) straight from the public coffers.  It simply is not right to throw even more taxpayer money at this terrible deal! And, I'm sure you're all well aware of the cozy "buddies lunch" yesterday when Barwick met with your board director and assistant director, Ron Erickson and Rick Head, to discuss a $150K "bribe." To cram this AHP nonsense down APCHA's throat and use public funds to get you to vote yes is hallmark Barwick. Like a wounded and rabid animal, he is backed into a corner and is in major damage control mode.  Unfortunately, he is also armed with the public's checkbook.  Do the right thing.  JUST SAY NO.
Mr. Barwick, with a municipal election merely 12 weeks away, I reiterate that you can count on your ongoing employment becoming a major campaign issue.  Do us all, and yourself, a favor and ride into the sunset.  And take the Crook** with you.
**At press time, The Red Ant is pleased to announce the abrupt resignation on Friday of one aptly-named Barry Crook from the city of Aspen, following a profanity-laced tirade at the conclusion of last week's APCHA board meeting when they voted to delay the approval of this terrible proposal.  Crook notably called the board "mother-f**king extortionists."  Overnight last night, Crook was mysteriously placed on immediate paid administrative leave by the city, so there is some good palace intrigue going on. In any case, Crook is a goner. Hopefully sooner vs later. 
And P.S., readers, if you haven't read enough about the low character of Steve Barwick, the man (just his lousy and incompetent managerial skills), here is something that will illustrate his true colors.  Mr. Barwick is a member of our local B.P.O.E. - "the Elks Club."  Few people know that I too am an Elk.  I affiliated with the local Elk's lodge in a community near where I have a summer home.  "My" lodge is a gritty, low-key affair where dedicated efforts are put toward veterans programs and combatting the heinous opioid crisis in the US northeast. The Elks are known universally for, among other things including patriotism, their reciprocity in welcoming fellow members to their lodges, so imagine my horror to be FORCIBLY thrown out of our local Aspen Elks lodge where I had joined other visiting members for a drink.  I was told by the reluctant lodge manager that "the city manager had banned me for life from that establishment." 
THIS is Steve Barwick: a weak and impotent man who has coasted in his role as CEO of the city of Aspen, effectively a corporation with a $120 million annual budget, with zero (council) oversight, who flexes his muscle at a local institution known around the world for its non-political, non-sectarian works. (In order to be a member, one must be a citizen, believe in God, and be of good moral character.) Just as he tried to punish a fellow Rotarian for opposing the local government, Barwick attempted to censure The Red Ant, for being a journalist who covers city hall.  

Be gone, bad man.


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend