BY FREDA MIKLIN
The Greenwood Village city council candidate forum held on September 27 at the AMG National Trust Bank, sponsored by the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce (SMDC), the League of Women Voters of Arapahoe and Douglas Counties (LWV) and the Villager Newspaper, drew 14 out of 15 candidates for the GV City Council election being held on November 2. This is the first time in the 71 years since GV was incorporated that 15 people have been on the ballot. During the 2 ½ hour event, candidates answered questions about what the future holds for the vacant office space in a city that was largely defined by its sprawling office parks before COVID, the availability of different types of housing in GV, the controversial resolution passed in 2020 in response to a new state law about police accountability, and communication between the council and residents. The entire event is available to see and hear on video at no cost on youtube.com by entering South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce in the search box and looking for Greenwood Village City Council Candidate Forum.
There were some strong contrasts between candidates, including on Resolution 40-20 that made GV the only city in Colorado that promised to fully indemnity its police officers for any civil damage findings against them whatsoever, even for knowingly wrong actions. While several incumbents, including Libby Barnacle, strongly defended the resolution, several challengers, including Jeff Leitner, said it sent the wrong message, especially to minorities.
Some incumbents, including Donna Johnston, saw the mix of housing in GV as fine as it is, while challengers, including Paul Baumann, pointed to the contrast between million-dollar homes and lower-end apartments tucked away in certain areas as resulting in the “missing middle” in available housing. Several challengers, including Kendall Kappler, said a city is healthier if its teachers and first responders can afford to live in it and that wasn’t possible in GV, while incumbent Judith Hilton asserted that many teachers live in GV. Differences on the question of communication tended to be between incumbents who felt that information was available about what the council was doing and interested citizens could find it easily if they chose to do so, compared to challengers who said it was council members’ responsibility to reach out to citizens for their input through tools like regular town halls and using video-recorded easily accessed meetings that residents could watch anytime. (Unlike most other cities in Colorado, GV only records its meetings on audio and speakers generally don’t identify themselves so it’s difficult to follow if one isn’t able to recognize the voices of all the participants).
A few days after the forum, The Villager reached out to three longtime GV residents who attended in person (it was also broadcast on Zoom) to get their impressions of the event.
Former Mayor Ron Rakowsky, ever the diplomat, said, “I congratulate the sponsors for coming together to bring the forum to the voters of Greenwood Village. The AMG Dome is a nonpareil location. I found the format highlighted the differences between the candidates.” Brent Neiser, current CEO of What’s Next with Money, former chair of the Consumer Advisory Board of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and a 2015 candidate for GV city council, said, “It was a clash of differing perceptions of the city’s governing philosophy, its future, and role in the region. One defending the current city council’s attention to detail on its balanced approach to decision-making and deliberations in doing what is best for GV as a distinctive city. The other sensing a set of “unforced errors” by the council thus making GV an outlier among the Denver suburbs on issues of climate, public safety, and inclusion as well as in the media.” Doug and Margaret Griffes, longtime highly-involved residents, said, “ We thought that it was incredibly helpful to have incumbents and challengers sitting down together at one well-structured forum, exchanging very different views but also agreeing on some of the issues that are most important to Greenwood Village. Our hats are off to The League of Women Voters, The Chamber of Commerce, and The Villager for organizing this.”
After the 75 guests who came to listen to the forum in person were welcomed by Jeff Keener, president and CEO of SMDC, the first question candidates were asked by moderator Vicki Harimon from LWV was, “Why do you want this job?” It gave candidates an opportunity to introduce themselves and their priorities.
The four district four candidates spoke first. Challenger Tom Stahl, a commercial realtor, pointed to his longtime residence in GV, love of its parks and open space, and service on its boards and commissions. He said that he would like to contribute more time to the city. Jeff Reiman, another challenger, pointed to his service on the state ethics committee as a lawyer who later transitioned from practicing law to teaching high school students. He said that the current city council “has not kept up with changes…to the environment or to our diverse community mix.” Jeff Leitner, an aerospace engineer who worked for NASA on the space shuttle program and is now a government consultant, said he moved his family to GV mainly because of the schools, the open space, and “the great reputation of the Village.” Leitner said he is running because he believes the current council lacks a vision for the city’s future, has failed to address the impact of climate change, has failed to seek community input in decisions and has not shown concern for people of color. Judith Hilton, Ph.D. the only incumbent in district four, pointed to her longtime residency in GV and her association with the 2017 save our village campaign, adding that she is proud of the current city council.
Kendall Kappler, district three candidate, talked about inclusivity, pointing to the fact that, on the current council, “working-class people and younger families,” who are the “backbone of our community, do not have a seat at the table.” Incumbent Donna Johnston said that she supports GV and it is “a great place to live, work and play.” She pointed to her service on her HOA and the city’s board of adjustments before being elected two years ago and said she “wants this job so we can keep our village safe.” Paul Baumann, Ph.D. pointed to GV’s open space, its “interconnectedness as a small suburban city” and its great school system. He said he wants to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, noting that “20% of the households in our city have a combined income of less than $50,000 a year, five percent of our residents are Hispanic, 11 percent are Asian, and we don’t see those folks represented on the council or on appointed boards, concluding, “I know we can do better.” Last to speak was incumbent Libby Barnacle, elected two years ago. Pointing to her former career as a prosecutor and having lived in GV all her life (incumbent Judith Hilton is her mother), she said that the number one issue to the residents of district three is public safety and, “I believe in listening to my constituents…” continuing, “I’m doing my darnedest to keep it that way despite the rise in crime, despite false and irresponsible reckless linking to our Resolution 40-20 to racism and fascism, despite death threats received, attempted character assassinations and general misinformation. I make tough decisions and stand by them to do right by GV.”
Current Mayor Pro Tem Dave Kerber was the first to speak from district two. He introduced his adult daughter who he said “had the opportunity of living in a safe open community that had great (Cherry Creek) schools.” He said he wanted his neighbors’ children to have the same opportunity. Incumbent Anne Ingebretsen said that she had been on the council from 1999 to 2007, when she left due to term limits of eight (consecutive) years, then ran again ten years later as part of the save our village campaign “to fight a proposed change in our comprehensive plan that would have allowed a lot more density in GV (near the Orchard Light Rail Station, which remains mostly undeveloped). Ingebretsen pointed to her role in the creation of the Arapahoe Entertainment District, which she expects to enhance city revenues in the future as the five-year city sales tax rebate program decreases from 100% of additional tax collected to 20%, before it expires. District two challenger Bob Doyle, a longtime resident, artist and retired environmental engineer, said he is running for the city council because, “There’s a lot of things we can do on climate change, something I have a keen interest in, in GV at a community level, that really can’t be done and won’t be done at the state…or federal level…I felt I could bring something new and important to this community…”
Last to speak were the three new candidates for the city council from district one. Paul Wiesner said he was a GV native and pointed to the city’s safe environment, good infrastructure, fiscal soundness and open space, parks and trails, saying he would continue the good management practices of previous city councils. Mathew Schulz, a U.S. Navy veteran and mortgage professional pointed to his leadership role as president of the state lenders association. He said that he is running “based on the inaccessibility and the unilateral nature of our present council,” pointing to a lack of transparency and a lack of opportunity for input from constituents, noting he believes “that the council here treats communication with the city as reactive not proactive.” Schulz said that he would seek citizen input before making decisions if elected. The other candidate in district one, Victoria Aguilar, a 14-year resident and small business owner with a private law practice in GV said that she wants to see “more leadership on topics like transparency, climate and waste discussions, and health and wellness, including COVID.”