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Denver pulls plug on cheap gasoline for Dems

Daniel J. Chacon and Kevin Vaughan
Rocky Mountain News

DENVER, Colorado – Officials abruptly have stopped allowing Democratic National Convention planners to gas up at city pumps, acknowledging that the city can’t legally sell fuel.

Public Works Department representatives also acknowledged that they never should have started selling gasoline to convention planners back in March before signing a contract with either the Denver 2008 Host Committee or the Democratic National Convention Committee.

The arrangement sparked an outcry after Public Works representatives first said that convention planners would not be charged the 40.4 cents a gallon gasoline tax and then said they would not be subject to other fees paid by drivers who use commercial pumps.



Public Works officials later said the taxes and fees would be paid.

Public Works deputy manager George Delaney sent a letter to City Council members Tuesday saying that the arrangement would be scuttled. Instead, the host committee, which raises money to put on the convention, and the DNCC entered an agreement with a private fuel vendor for gasoline for the fleet of vehicles it is using.



Delaney said in the letter that the arrangement “highlighted two fundamental issues” for the department.

First, Delaney wrote, a contract should have been in place before any fuel was dispensed. Second, “There are better ways to structure the contract than what was initially proposed.”

“I want to give them credit, but I think they were forced into this decision,” Councilman Charlie Brown said. “The public perception was a disaster; the whole thing was a disaster.”



Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz, who had questioned the deal, said that ending the practice was a “wise decision.”

“It takes the city out of the middle, and I’m not sure the city should have been in the middle to begin with,” she said.

Denver Auditor Dennis Gallagher also questioned the deal, noting that the city never should have dispensed fuel without a contract.

“We will obviously be keeping an extremely close eye on anything coming through for the DNC,” said Denis Berckefeldt, a spokesman for Gallagher. “We were already, but this deal raised our level of scrutiny.”

The arrangement has been muddled since it first came up last week in a meeting with Mayor John Hickenlooper and City Council members.

First, Public Works said that convention planners would not have to pay fuel taxes. Then the department insisted that the planners would pay, after the controversy erupted and state Attorney General John Suthers said that the practice was probably illegal.

Then, Public Works spokeswoman Ann Williams said that the two DNC-related committees would be billed at the “market rate,” as established by the Oil Price Information Service, a price that does not include various fees paid by consumers. But Williams said Tuesday that the convention committees would pay the fees.

Later in the day, the city announced that the arrangement had ended and that convention planners would go elsewhere for fuel, with one exception – biodiesel to power buses used by the organizations. The city is apparently the only biodiesel supplier that can supply the fuel in the volume that the convention organizations need, Delaney said.

Convention planners will pay a private vendor which, in turn, will reimburse Public Works for the fuel already pumped and for the biodiesel they continue to use.

Records that the city provided to the Rocky Mountain News show that 61 convention vehicles had been fueled at city pumps, resulting in a total bill of more than $11,000.

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