We dig into allegations of corruption within the town of Parker, Colorado.
From time to time, we find ourselves faced with a story which makes us question the culture and leadership of a town or municipality. Parker leadership has, over the last couple years, raised concerns that are too telling to ignore – from questionable transactions involving self dealing on the part of town councilmembers, to one particular town councilmember, Debbie Lewis, actually abusing her position in an attempt to influence the police, to even what this story is about.
Everywhere we turned, the feeling we got from the community seemed to be, “They can do whatever they want, and they punish and bully their targets with impunity.”
This story seemed too hard to believe, and as a result, we had to be sure before we added this to the long list of events, which lead many to question: Is the leadership of the Town of Parker corrupt? Here's what we discovered …
Just north of the Parker Town Hall and the Parker library, near Mainstreet and Pine Drive, there lies a narrow strip of undeveloped land that Joe and Erika Oltmann have owned since 2005.
The piece – just a little under a third of an acre – borders Pine Drive on one end and lies adjacent to the north side of the large 21-acre plot that belongs to the Town of Parker.
Image from Douglas County Assessor's Office
The land came along with the Oltmanns’ purchase of the sprawling villa-style house on the hill, which they called their home for nearly five years. In 2009, the Oltmanns made the decision to turn their home into an event center, called Villa Parker, and approached the Town of Parker to go through the process of transitioning the property from residential to commercial.
In late 2009, they entered into an annexation agreement with the town, and as a part of this annexation agreement, the Oltmanns agreed to at a later date sell the land at the flagpole section of the property. After about 18 months of what Joe describes as a “draconian process,” both the Oltmanns and town officials agreed, and the annexation agreement was completed.
Courtesy of Google Street View
Fast-forward to April 2016. Ready to develop the land for the expansion of Pine Drive and the installation of street lights, the Town of Parker reached out to the Oltmanns, issuing them a 30-day notice requirement – and a surprising expectation that the land would be annexed for free.
Oltmann had no problem annexing the land, but he wasn't going to just give it the Town of Parker. He believed he deserved just compensation – the fair market value.
“The Town of Parker literally came to our business and threatened me and my wife that they would take the property through eminent domain if we did not comply and sign over the rights to the land,” Oltmann said. “We told them, with just compensation for the land as agreed, we would happily do that. They insisted it be given to them for free and stated it was a condition of them allowing us to become a commercial property. I literally told the two they sent over to get off my property.”
Parker officials claimed no payment for purchase had ever been discussed or recorded.
They went back to the 2009 annexation agreement, and as it so happens, there were ambiguities in the agreement's wording that could have pointed in either the Oltmanns' favor or the Town of Parker's, depending on how it was interpreted. Instead of the town recording that the land would be endowed upon them, they used words such as “fee simple,” a term that can be interpreted legally in many ways, none of which appear to support the argument the town was making.
Fast-forward a few months, and the matter was eventually escalated to the Douglas County District Court. There, the Town of Parker sought title to the land through eminent domain, which constitutionally requires payment through fair market value. Attorneys on both sides went back and forth with a settlement that was finally agreed. The settlement was undisputed, and on February 24, 2017, the Court ordered that the Town of Parker pay the Oltmanns $61,500 for a final sale of the land.
The official settlement wording reads as follows:
"Just compensation includes full and final settlement of all claims of any type associated with the acquisition, including attorney's fees and costs."
Now that they owned the parcel, town officials could proceed with their road enhancement project.
It was over – or so the Oltmanns thought.
Just two and a half months later, on May 4, 2017, the Town of Parker filed a new lawsuit against the Oltmanns, claiming breach of the original agreement from 2009 (still believing that the Oltmanns should have turned over the property for free) and asking that the couple reimburse them for the full $61,500 that had been paid for the land, as well as attorney fees and costs for both the original eminent domain settlement and the new lawsuit.
Even though the Douglas County District Court had reviewed the case and ruled on it without any dispute or contest from the Town of Parker, town officials had seemingly changed their minds.
"There's a legal principle that says you don't get two bites at the apple," Joseph Orrino, Oltmann's attorney, said. "When you believe that you have a right that's been denied, and you go to a court, it's essentially expected that you'll raise all the issues associated with that at that time – that you won't use the court's resources to get a final judgment and then come back and ask for more if you don't like that judgment. Parker had the opportunity to address a breach of contract at the beginning; they chose not to. It's a waste of the court's resources to come back and address the issues again."
From the Oltmanns' standpoint, the second lawsuit seemed personal.
For one thing, it didn't make logical sense for the Town of Parker to use resources and tax dollars to further the issue. In fact, it could be estimated that with legal fees, the town may have spent just as much money fighting the ruling as the $61,500 they paid for the land to begin with. So why bother taking it back to court?
Maybe it was personal. And here's where it gets interesting.
Oltmann has been very vocal about his opposition to the Parker Place Hotel, a proposed four-story hotel on historic Mainstreet.
Initial Exterior Sketch of the proposed Parker Place Hotel, from Parkered.org
In fact, in December of 2016, just three months before Douglas County's ruling, Oltmann spoke publicly at a Town of Parker Planning Commission meeting, drawing attention to a perceived conflict of interest between town councilmembers and Mars Hospitality, LLC, the proposed developer of the hotel.
After receiving a call from a group of concerned citizens about a land deal to sell the Parker Water District property for about half of the assessed value and admittedly about a third of what the market price was currently, Oltmann had started asking questions. Very quickly he’d started to see some things that concerned him. The first thing he'd discovered was that the developer was a former town councilmember, himself. The other ties to the currently sitting town councilmembers started to paint a picture that made Oltmann and many others question whether or not the Town of Parker was actually a place where corruption was running rampant. The more he asked questions and researched, the more evident he said it became that the town was self-dealing and acting corruptly.
Here are a few of the things they uncovered:
Parker town councilmember Amy Holland was listed as an employee for Mars Hospitality, the developer. Holland has no apparent experience in hotel management or the hospitality industry, however, Mars Hospitality hired her in the summer of 2016 about a year before the development deal was to close.
Councilmember Debbie Lewis admitted that May and his wife donated $500 to her re-election campaign, however, public records show that the May family, individually and through their companies, contributed $1,500 to her 2012 campaign as well. Lewis also admitted that May's wife is her accountant and has done her taxes for “a long time.” However, she failed to also mention Traci May, wife of Mike May, was listed as the registered agent for Debbie Lewis in both the 2012 and 2016 election campaigns.
Councilmember John Diak also does financial consulting [ongoing] for Mars Hospitality and has been compensated in the past for consultation on the company’s 401k program. Diak stated he only received $269 as the account is “very small.”
Councilmember Renee Williams stated that she knows May personally and has used his accounting firm in the past.
Councilmember Joshua Rivero declared that he employs one of May's daughters.
Through the hotel deal, Mars Hospitality was poised to receive $2 million in incentives.
From left to right: Councilmember Joshua Rivero, Councilmember Debbie Lewis, Councilmember Jeff Toborg, Councilmember Renee Williams, Mayor Mike Waid, Councilmember Cheryl Poage and Councilmember John Diak (courtesy of Town of Parker website)
Armed with all this information, Oltmann spoke up at the December 2016 Planning Commission Meeting, and along with other Parker residents and business owners, continued to push and put pressure on the Parker town council, calling them out on the conflict of interest and the fact that building the hotel was not in the best interest of the citizens. As a result, the hotel deal fell through.
Now Oltmann can't help but wonder if the lawsuit for the land annexation deal is retribution for his role in exposing the conflict of interest between Mars and the Town of Parker councilmembers and essentially stopping construction on the hotel.
“The corruption is unbelievable,” he said. “No one in their right mind could believe that the town council or the town attorney had not been habitually ethically compromised. They had been self-dealing for years, but this one was a blatant disregard for the public trust. This group of people in the Town of Parker are simply unethical bullies. Someone has to stand up to them, and my guess is there are lots of other people in the Town with stories that will come from this one being told. In this instance, though, the good guys won, and the hotel deal was shut down. It will get another shot, if I guessed, because the same bad people are still in positions of authority in the Town of Parker.”
On February 25, 2019, CBS4 reported on an incident that happened back in December 2018 with three-term Councilwoman Debbie Lewis, one of the same Parker town councilmembers who had been caught up in the conflict regarding the Parker Place Hotel.
Parker Police say they caught Lewis in a car behind a restaurant on December 12, engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with a man. When police approached her, she denied that the behavior was inappropriate and called the chief of police and his assistant 11 times that evening, "ranting and raving," asking them to make the officers leave and saying that "someone is going to pay for this." Lewis seemed to be threatening the police and using the weight of her position to intimidate officers and influence them. No charges were ever filed against her.
Using one's elected position for personal financial gain .... Spending the town's resources on a vendetta-like lawsuit that has no merit .... Pressuring and threatening police not to file charges when caught in a lewd act ....
From all of these situations, it's hard not to see a culture of power abuse within the Town of Parker's leadership. Who's holding them accountable?
In the lawsuit brought against him and his wife, Oltmann has spent nearly $100,000 on legal fees to date. The original case was won on a summary judgment, as the judge ruled that the Town of Parker could not bring a new lawsuit after a settlement they had agreed to had been reached. But the town, in an apparent attempt to spend the Parker citizens’ tax money for their own attorneys to punish the Oltmanns, appealed the verdict to the Colorado Court of Appeals.
The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in Oltmann's favor on Thursday, February 21, 2019. The Court's decision stated that not only had the language of the original settlement been adequate to put the matter to rest, but that "claim preclusion" (a principle that prevents re-litigation of matters that courts have already settled) would have applied even if it hadn't.
You would have thought the Town of Parker would have let this be the end of litigation, but they didn't.
The Town petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court to hear the case on yet another appeal. It still remains to be determined whether the Supreme Court will hear the case, but what’s more astonishing is that the Town of Parker (whose legal fees, we can only assume, match Oltmann’s) would spend over $100,000 of the Town of Parker’s funds to chase the Oltmanns for $61,000 for land they did not own.
In all the discussions we have had with citizens of Parker, we cannot find any credible evidence that points to any other conclusion than that this was an active vendetta and abuse of power by the town attorney, the town council, and the administration of the Town of Parker.
“The corruption and self-dealing in and around the town attorney and the town council has become epidemic,” said a previous town councilmember who asked not to be named because of fear of retribution. “There are a few new outliers now, but the culture of the administration is one that involves entitlements and self-dealing as a rule, not an exception.”
Why do town council members or the town attorney think it's okay to use their position to further causes from which they would financially gain? Why is Councilwoman Lewis, whose term ends in November 2020, allowed to "bully" the chief of police? Is this truly an epidemic? And if it is, how do the citizens of Parker do something about it?
These are the questions that remain just beneath the surface of Parker's down-home charm and behind the quaint facades of historic Mainstreet.
“Erika and I have spent years supporting nonprofits and sponsoring churches and charitable giving in huge proportions to the people in and around our community here in Parker,” Oltmann said. “The reality is these self-serving people have to go. It is not a matter of waiting until the next election cycle; the only way to stop this is to clean out the old guard and bring in what we should have always had – legitimate honest community leadership. What we have now is nothing more than a bully pulpit with a stick to beat on anyone they see as the opposition.”
Though we attempted, the Town of Parker could not be reached for comment.
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