Max Kirschbaum, who has had a large presence and much influence in directing the city’s utility infrastructure program and water/sewer rate calculations, will be leaving in the middle of March. In particular, Kirschbaum has been strident in his leadership and guidance on building a new state-of-the-art water treatment plant.
Under the direction of the previous mayor and city council, the city contracted with an engineering firm to design the new plant, new transmission pipes and selected a separate 40-acre site, pending condemnation proceedings in court.
The treatment plant is estimated to cost at least $250 million, likely a low estimate. The cost of the plant, transmission lines and land acquisition are the main drivers in the infamous water rate debacle going back to Dec. 2018. At that time, a majority of the city council adopted major water rate increases both for 2019 and for the ensuing years.
The recently elected mayor and city council has paused progress on the water plant design, new water transmission main and the land condemnation. Staff is currently evaluating placing a new plant on existing city-owned land adjacent to the Semper Water Treatment Plant.
A time to stay and a time to go
With the departure of Max Kirschbaum, one can only speculate on how the remaining utility department staff will approach the new direction on the water treatment plant issue, the location for a new plant if that is decided versus modifications to the existing Semper Treatment Plant.
Kirschbaum’s pragmatic approach carried a lot of weight with then-City Manager Don Tripp. With a different mayor and city council now in office, a new direction has been established. Mr. Tripp left the employment of the city and has been replaced by Interim City Manager Jody Andrews, who is more knowledgeable about utilities and major construction projects. Plus, Mr. Andrews embraces the direction the council wants to go.
I would reiterate the need to weed out those employees who aren’t willing to “get on board” with the new direction. After all, the council’s direction is what should count; not the other way around.
It apparently didn’t fit Krischbaum’s comfort level or professional approach to lead the new direction. This vacancy will trigger another national search for a new Public Works and Utilities Director. At last count, six department heads will have left the employment of the city, including the Fire Chief, which leaves two (in the Community Development and IT departments) who were hired by Don Tripp. The new city manager will have a “fresh” group of key departmental leaders who should not have any allegiance to the Tripp style of public administration.
Northglenn reacts to caustic politics
The Northglenn City Council recently gave a positive nod to a new policy for reimbursing legal fees when they are acting in the capacity of a member of the city council.
This new policy would cover certain situations when the city insurance coverage nor the defense of sovereign or governmental immunity don’t apply.
I find this policy a direct reflection of the heightened caustic political environment in which we live. In particular, it reflects on the variety of personal threats, disparaging slurs, intimidation and other similar acts against elected officials.
We have seen it time and time again. Recall the situation involving Thornton Mayor Kulmann and the electronic media threats due to her employment in the oil and gas industry. Threats against election officials during and after the 2020 Presidential Election are numerous, to say the least.
Actions against officials pertaining to combating COVID with face masks and vaccinations are prevalent and of a kind with the threats against State Rep Mullica after introducing state legislation. Such public behavior especially comes out in emotional, contentious situations like the above-mentioned election, the Uplands development in Westminster, voting rights legislation and racial matters to name a few.
The Northglenn City Council took prudent action to move this policy forward. Other cities should give it consideration.
Pizza Hut clean up is overdue
A lot of us drive by the tangled mess and burnt debris where Pizza Hut sat for many years at 78th Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard. People have not only complained about the drawn-out timeline to get the site cleared but have communicated their disdain to the city council and staff.
The fire occurred on May 12, 2021. There was a second fire at the site on Sept. 17th. Soon, it will be nine months since the unfortunate incident took place. I can’t help but wonder how frustrated the Grease Monkey and El Berrinche’s Mexican Restaurant owners/management feel – along with other businesses in the immediate area -regarding the eyesore.
There is also a question of environmental exposure i.e. asbestos, from the fire.
Delay has more than meets the eye
In digging into this issue of what appeared to be a slow response from the city’s code enforcement office, there is more than meets the eye.
I am told the city opened its case to get the site cleared on July 21st of last year. The property is owned by a trust in California and corporate folks at Pizza Hut have been cooperative with the city but were shocked to learn last December that the property owner had not done anything.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also plays a role in this kind of fire and they have jurisdiction over asbestos remediation. To date, they had not issued the required permit for removal.
Another key player in these situations is the insurance company that insured the building and contents. According to fire department staff, delays are realized many times if the insurance company is slow to inspect the site and release it.
Positive action coming
In talking with Community Development and Fire Department staff, there is some apparent good news: First, a demolition permit will be procured and cleanup will start around Feb. 21. Secondly, the corporate level at Pizza Hut has indicated that they intend to rebuild on the site.
There was talk among attorneys that some issues still needed to be resolved. This leads to the observation that perhaps the city could have or should have moved quicker. Certainly from a community pride standpoint, we would encourage a more timely response beyond fencing off the derelict property. The city has a “public nuisance” ordinance as well as a civil nuisance abatement process authority.
While there may be details unknown to the public, it would seem that one of these tools would work to prod the owner to action. In that case, the city would have cited Pizza Hut and given a stated amount of time to clear the site. If they had not complied by the deadline, the company would be cited in municipal court where they would face penalties if found guilty.
The city also has the authority to have the cleanup done and invoice the property owner.
Another example of using the “public nuisance” ordinance is the sad status of the Midland Building, located in the 7200 block of Irving St., adjacent to the STEM School. It has been vacant a long time and has been a challenge for the city to keep homeless people out of it.
It seems like the building owner has had ample time to rectify the situation. A more assertive use of this ordinance would be a positive step toward cleaning up some eyesores while using due process.
Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at email@example.com.