In Defense of Chris Stevens, former Curtis Art Center Director

Almost every week I drop by the Curtis Art Center to visit with director Chris Stevens and leave newspapers while learning more about art shows, and upcoming events. Chris was always busy, usually with a hammer or art frame in his hand, setting up or dismantling shows and planning for upcoming events. 

Outside of the Madden family museums, Greenwood Village has few cultural facilities, but many wonderful parks. Each year the parks are very busy featuring a fishing derby and a city-wide summer picnic. Greenwood Village is a very successful city, and we go back in history over 40 years. We’ve dealt with a half dozen mayors and some exceptional reporters. Reporter Betty Wotring became involved with the development of Centennial in the early days, serving on that city’s first council. Betty Todd served on the GV council and was a stellar reporter for years, still residing near mayor George Lantz. Resident reporter Ed Phillipson, assisted by wife Kay, was our first early day reporter and he would rake the council over the coals for having secret meetings, prior to new open records laws on “Executive Sessions.”

In the rear of the building are two double-wide exits at the bottom of the stairs with a fire alarm fixtures.

We have by far the largest circulation in Greenwood Village and former council member and resident Freda Miklin does a remarkable job of being our county-wide governmental reporter. Along with being an award-winning reporter, Freda is a CPA and is able to comb through and understand the graphs and statistics from cities and organizations. 

Recently I was dropping off some complimentary Villager newspapers at the Curtis Art Center and discovered that Chris wasn’t there anymore. I was shocked, the Art Center was Chris Stevens. 

I’m especially fond of the Curtis Art Center because The Villager was part of saving the old farmhouse and creating the outstanding facility with the adjacent park area. Jo Cole, who helped form the Center, was our local arts reporter for many years. We were also deeply involved in the development of the Preserve and the location of the Koebel Library. The library almost moved to a County Line Road location, but we helped save it at the present location. The Preserve has an interesting history that dates back to saving prairie dogs with considerable opposition to the development. Today, one of the finest developments in the entire Metro area.

An upstairs fire alert exit door.

Back to the Curtis Arts Center and Chris, in a few more days’ stories started trickling in that Chris had been “fired.” What I have heard, at this point, is mostly hearsay, but I share what I have heard. Seems that at a major evening event at the center the reportedly faulty fire alarm system went off which was a common occurrence. Chris Stevens dismantled the beeping annoyance, after making sure there was no fire. Each floor has  major fire escape doorways. Apparently, the false alarms happen often, and the fire department does not respond. The question is why don’t they respond?

Chris has operated the Curtis Art Center for the last nine years and has put the facility on the map. There is always a new show in progress or one coming up. The Center is one of Greenwood Village’s great facilities with many ongoing daily classes. On one visit I strolled downstairs where an adult art class was in progress. I noticed a double-door fire exit with a fire alarm fixture.

As more information arrives, it appears that Chris was dismissed for not notifying superiors about the malfunctioning fire system quickly enough, thereby putting patrons at risk, thus leading to his immediate dismissal from his job. I was also informed that the building maintenance employee was at the Saturday night event  during the malfunction. 

This incident would worry me if I was a Greenwood Village employee. Here is a very loyal, successful, hardworking center director could be suddenly fired without severance, or hearing, over a malfunctioning fire alarm system. Other parties, including the fire department, might share some blame, along with building property managers. Personnel matters are part of executive session rules, but Chris can come before the council and state his case, very permissible. What are all the facts, what can be learned from this situation, and is it possible for Chris to be reinstated?

I know the facility is busy because I see many people coming and going, and many nearby neighbors enjoy classes at the facility. I was there last week and the door was unlocked but the front office was empty; I was saddened.

It would seem reasonable that Chris Stevens would be given a hearing by the full city council over his sudden dismissal, apparently over a history equipment malfunction.

I believe council members should defend all employees and give them the right to defend themselves.  I know that Greenwood Villager has high standards and good employees. We just lost one.

Does anyone care but me?