Florida trip by two Eagle officials raises questions
From Oct. 29 through Nov. 1, Eagle Mayor Yuri Kostick and town board member Doug Seabury traveled to Florida to meet with Haymeadow developer Alan Cohen.
The town board representatives traveled with local resident Scott Schlosser, who is also a business associate of Seabury’s. Scholsser is the newly designated local contact for the Haymeadow project. The intended purpose of the meeting was to discuss the project’s future in the wake of the announcement that Ric Newman, the man who shepherded the Haymeadow plan through the town’s approval process, is no longer working for Abrika — the Florida-based firm that proposed the development.
However, not all members of the Eagle Town Board were advised of the trip before it occurred.
A written statement issued Nov. 17 from the town board as a group noted town officials “have invested significant time, effort and expense helping to craft a residential development project which meets the town’s vision as stated within the Eagle Area Community Plan. The town has several crucial infrastructure projects which are, in part, dependent upon the success and timing of this project.”
Haymeadow is a 837-unit residential development proposed at the 660-acre parcel located just south of the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink property. The development application was approved by the town board earlier this year.
The town board’s statement last week notes that as Eagle finalizes its 2015 budget a “comprehensive understanding of the status and timing of this pending development project is important.”
The statement continues, “At its budget work session on Oct. 28, 2014, the board discussed its desire for more information on the projected development schedule of Haymeadow so that the town appropriately budgets for capital expenditures in the 2015 budget. Following that work session Mayor Kostick and Trustee Seabury met with representatives of Abrika in Florida on Oct. 29 through Nov. 1”
But according to a number of independent sources, not all town board members were advised that the pair would be flying to meet with the developer the day after that work session discussion.
A Colorado Open Records Act request from the Enterprise regarding all written and electronic communications regarding the trip between the dates of Oct. 1 and Nov. 14 produced a number of emails between a New York -based travel agent and Schlosser, Seabury and Kostick beginning Oct. 22. But no communications from other town board members were produced prior to the trip. Additionally no communications involving other board members were produced following the trip. In a letter to the newspaper, Eagle Town Attorney Ed Sands noted “Please be advised that certain correspondence is not being produced because they were correspondence with me and are subject to attorney-client privilege.”
The newspaper is forwarding its CORA request and the town’s reply to the Colorado Press Association for a legal recommendation to determine if the requested information can be withheld.
The Nov. 17 letter from the town board states that the town will be picking up the tab for Seabury and Kostick to make the trip.
“Total expenses for the trip were approximately $2,380, which will be approved for payment in December in connection with the November bill pay schedule,” the statement says.
Payment amount reflects air fare for the two. While in Florida, they stayed at a guest house on Cohen’s property.
While the town will reimburse the costs for the flights, the airline tickets were paid for by another entity initially. If the town board were to reject reimbursement when it is presented in the Dec. 9 bill schedule, there would likely be an issue of Colorado Amendment 41 compliance. That amendment prohibits town officials or staff from accepting gifts, including travel costs, in excess of $50.
However, that is not likely to happen.
“The town board is pleased to have established an open and more direct relationship with Haymeadow’s principals and is confident that the expense of the trip will enable it to budget for 2015 expenses more effectively and ultimately, to help ensure the success of the project,” noted the statement.
When contacted Tuesday night, Kostick declined any additional comment regarding the Florida trip. When contacted last week, Seabury stressed the intent of the trip was to have a face-to-face meeting with Cohen to make sure all the parties were well informed about the details of the town’s project approval. He noted that Cohen was well aware of the conditions the town imposed on Haymeadow. He added Cohen was also well versed about Eagle’s economic status and that he expressed interest in additional investment in the community.
The town board’s Nov. 17 statement notes “trips like this occur in almost every major development project.” That may be true in theory, but it is incorrect in Eagle history.
In the past, Eagle town board representatives have met, individually or in groups of two, with developer representatives. However,the developers came to Eagle instead of board members traveling out of state. During the past 30 years there are no other examples of town board approved, out-of-state travel for members.
Willy Powell, former Eagle town manager from 1984-2013, cited only two previous out-of-state trips by town representatives. In both cases, town staff traveled to tour projects as they worked with developers on applications for the town board approval. The first happened in the middle 1990s when Powell and then-town planner Larry McKinzie traveled to Celebration, a Florida development that was among the first examples of New Urbanism. The trip was organized by the developers of Eagle Ranch, and the planning principals involved are reflected in the Neighborhood Center part of that plan. At the time, Amendment 41 restrictions had not yet been adopted.
The second trip was approved prior to departure and paid for by the town. Powell, town engineer Tom Gosiorowski and former planner Bill Gray traveled to Kansas City, Mo. to tour RED Development projects while working with the company on planning for Eagle River Station.