BY FREDA MIKLIN
On July 24, two inches of rain pounded the city in less than an hour, resulting in overwhelming flooding near South Broadway. A 32-year-old woman was trapped in a basement apartment at 4650 S. Acoma Street and she drowned before rescuers could reach her.
Several Englewood residents have been continuously pressing their city government ever since, wanting answers about why it happened. They have argued that the city was on notice, as early as 1999 that the storm drainage system in the area where the flood occurred was dangerously inadequate.
Englewood has 500 full-time and 400 part-time employees. Its city council is comprised of seven members, four of whom represent specific districts and three of whom represent the city at-large. The mayor and mayor pro-tem are chosen by the council from among its group. There is a city manager in charge of day-to-day operations. District 2 representative Linda Olson, elected in 2009, currently serves as mayor and representative at-large Rita Russell, elected in 2015, is mayor pro-tem. Unlike some others, this city council operates with 100 percent transparency. All its meetings and study session are live-streamed and available to watch online anytime.
On Sept. 4, as a result of a security concern, all individuals attending the city council meeting were required to pass through metal detectors. One member of the council chose not to attend. At the end of that meeting, four-year city manager Eric Keck unexpectedly publicly announced his resignation.
The Villager reached out to the mayor, mayor pro-tem, and two other members of the city council whose names had come up in other matters, to get their thoughts on recent events in their city. We asked about the departure of the city manager, the security issue on Sept. 4, and their response to citizens about the circumstances that led to the July 24 flood that resulted in a fatality.
Olson said that she was surprised and very disappointed that Keck left, but appreciated the awesome job he did and wished him well. She had no comment on the security situation that gave rise to the use of metal detectors on Sept. 4. Olson said that, during 8.5 years on city council, she had not been made aware of any past concerns about inadequate storm drainage. She said that the council was trying to study the problem now to determine what should be done. Olson said that “cities all over the metropolitan area and around the country are dealing with infrastructure issues.”
Russell is seen by many as a quiet voice of reason. She told The Villager that she was not surprised at Keck’s departure because she thought he had been looking for another position for a while. She appreciated his service. Regarding the security event, Russell said that she and others had received an email from a citizen who reported overhearing a conversation that could have been interpreted as threatening. Her understanding was that Englewood police officers investigated and determined there was no credible threat, but Russell allowed that something could have occurred subsequently that changed that conclusion. The mayor pro-tem said that the safety of all citizens, including city council, is paramount. Regarding the flood, Russell said that council is asking for $171,000 to study the south Englewood storm drainage infrastructure to determine the best way to fix it.
District 3’s Laurett Barrentine told The Villager that she was surprised, but not shocked at Keck’s departure. She said, “I am sad. I thought that if he faced the concerns and issues that were coming forward, he might have reached a new plateau in his professional career.” Regarding the security situation on Sept. 4, she said that she was surprised to see the metal detectors because Russell had told her there was no credible threat and she had not been contacted by Olson. About the flooding, Barrentine said that the city had had a special election in May (to fill the seat of Joe Jefferson, who was appointed presiding municipal judge of Englewood), she herself was currently being subjected to a recall effort, and the city manager had just resigned. She said there was a lot going on, but the problem is extremely important, and the council would act on the situation as soon as possible.
Cheryl Wink was elected representative-at-large in November. She saw city manager Keck as a “wonderful guy who was being blamed for everything.” She felt that people didn’t give him a chance to do his job and that he wanted to help the city move forward. Wink did not attend the Sept. 4 meeting because she “wanted to bring to light that it was important that all of the council get the same information if there is a potential threat.” She said that the city manager told her that he was not aware of the history of flooding in the area where the fatality occurred. Wink said that the city council has been reeling since the incident. She said they were gathering the necessary information to determine what to do. She believes that it will be a very expensive fix, but it must be done to protect the residents.
It was unclear whether the metal detectors were going to continue to be used at city council meetings.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city of Englewood has 34,407 residents, a median housing value of $238,400 and household income of $50,184. Its population is 85 percent Caucasian and includes 2,040 military veterans. Just over one-third of Englewood residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher and 10 percent are under 65 with a disability. The bureau estimates 17.7 percent of Englewood residents live in poverty. The city’s website says that the average size of homes in Englewood is 1,237 square feet with an average of 3.68 people living in them.
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