People push for Parker Town Council recall in wake of revealing conflicts of interest regarding Downtown development of the negatively perceived four-story hotel.
A push for a Parker Town Council recall appears to be gaining steam in Parker, Colorado, as large numbers of area residents and business owners cry foul over major conflicts of interest stemming from a new hotel development project. A four-story hotel in Downtown Parker has been proposed by Developer Mike May, who owns a company, Mars Hospitality, LLC.
Supporters of the project say that it will help downtown Parker grow. However, critics wonder if it is worth sacrificing ethics to do so. There is also a large number of concerns voiced by residents most affected by the development that seem to have gone unaddressed.
At a recent Parker Town Council meeting, council members were pressed to publicly disclose their ties to Mars Hospitality after numerous residents voiced concerns regarding conflict of interest.
Through the disclosure, several major conflicts were revealed.
Council Member Amy Holland is an employee who works for Mars Hospitality and has been ordered by the Town’s attorney to recuse herself. Holland has no apparent experience in hotel management or the hospitality industry, however, Mars Hospitality hired her in the summer of 2016. Council Member Debbie Lewis admitted that May and his wife donated $500 to her re-election campaign, though 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.
Council Member 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." However small the payment, all of these connections within Parker’s Town Council cumulatively seem to paint a very suspicious picture. Council Member Renee Williams stated that she knows May personally and has used his accounting firm in the past. Council Member Joshua Rivero declared that he employs one of May's daughters.
Back Row (left to right): Amy Holland, Mike Waid, and Debbie Lewis. Front Row (left to right): Josh Martin, Joshua Rivero, Renee Williams, and John Diak.
At face value, these entangled relationships do raise a lot of eyebrows.
What has enraged many area residents are the benefits that the Parker Town Council is bestowing upon Mars Hospitality. At one point during the hearing December 5, Lewis and Williams made light of the conflict by joking that they have also eaten at the hotel restaurant previously owned by May, essentially mocking the people of Parker and their concerns for conflicts of interest. The Parker Authority for Reinvestment, an entity governed by the same Parker Town Council members, purchased the land for the proposed hotel for $865,000 in 2014. The land is officially valued at $768,996, but it is widely accepted to be worth much more than that. Tax records on the Douglas County Assessor’s office estimate its actual value at $1,019,225. If they are successful in passing the proposed project that would be an actual loss to the people of Parker in excess of $600,000.
The Parker Council is proposing a “write down" of $422,948 to “incentivize” Mars Hospitality to take up the project from the actual purchase price. Making this one of the sweetest deals a developer could imagine getting. However, this comes at a hefty cost to the people of Parker.
So here we have a real estate developer with clear business connections and friendly relations to several Council Members, getting prime land in Downtown Parker for just 40 cents on the dollar. That, of course, doesn’t mention the financing incentives or the offered tax breaks. To say that Parker taxpayers are taking a haircut on this deal is an understatement. They’re being decapitated.
All told, Parker Town Council is prepared to give Mars Hospitality well over $2 million dollars in incentives. Courtesy of the people of Parker while Council Members seem to continue to benefit financially from their connections to the corporation or its ownership. This is the kind of corruption you expect to see in shady Washington, D.C., dealings, not in our quiet Town of Parker. Unfortunately, this is not the only controversy or conflict surrounding this project.
Here are just a few of the other issues surrounding this development:
- Mike May is a previous Parker town council member. As recently as 2011 was the subject of several lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct. The allegations are startling. Mike May appears to have been dogged by misconduct previously as well.
- The RFI process was only offered to two developers. One declined after speaking with Parker Town staff, and the other was Mars Hospitality.
- A study for the Hotel listed this location as the “least desirable of the three locations”
- A feasibility study, which is usually done in cases of financial incentives, was never done. Hotel owner of three of the current hotels in Parker, Tom McCann, voiced his opinion stating, “I know how this works. You said a feasibility study was done but it wasn’t. If it was, they would have contacted me. But they never did. Right now my hotels sit at 50% capacity at one and 70% capacity at the other. This deal stinks.”
Former Mayor Gary Lasater, who served Parker for over 16 years, stated clearly to the sitting Town Council that it was never the intent of the Town of Parker to allow a four-story building downtown and questioned the conflicts himself. He cautioned them, but it appears to have fallen on deaf ears, at least for the moment.
Longtime local resident Joe Skalisky voiced his opinion, “I went to the town council meeting with an open mind. The more I heard the more shocked I was. This appears on its face to be wrong. Not sure how they can justify what they are doing."
Jeff Toborg, who ran for Parker Town Council, says this project and process are fraught with ethical questions. “This hotel project is a bad deal for Parker! When the conflicts of interests with the Council and Developer run so rampant that you have to vote on each other's level of conflict? They have got to scrap this project!”
Terry Dodd, who also ran for Town Council, responded saying “the cronyism has become so ingrained that it is as much a survival technique as it is a conscious act of self-enrichment and the Town Attorney is enabling it."
One business owner, who chose to remain anonymous, said, “The Town of Parker likes to punish you if you speak out. Business is hard enough; I can’t speak up because they will find a way to make it hard on you.”
The more people I talked to, the more discouraged I became. Not only for the people of Parker, but the business owners as well. I had to ask the question, how are they getting away with this? It doesn’t appear that the parties involved care about these business relationships going public. Even if that were the case, the Planning Committee gave the proposal the green light. Town Council voted to move the project ahead as well, all while ignoring the concerns of the people and the conflicts that exist.
Parker’s attorney has tried to sweep the controversy under the rug.
“Can you imagine if a politician couldn't vote because they got campaign contributions?” Maloney said. “That's the way it works.”
As a journalist, I can attest that this is not how it is supposed to work. This is the way crony capitalism works. However, the people of Parker can still push their voice and thoughts regarding these dealings. With the project moving forward in spite of protests, some residents and business owners are pushing for a recall election.
The final public comment is on December 12, 2016, at 7 p.m. Whatever your thoughts, if you live in Parker, you owe it to yourself to attend.