Minturn council member accused of impropriety
MINTURN — Residents learned this week the town has granted a temporary lease to councilman John Rosenfeld to use of town-owned land for his gardening business.
The deal, worked out between Rosenfeld and Town Manager Willy Powell, allows Rosenfeld to begin construction of a greenhouse on town-owned land near Cemetery Road in South Minturn. While similar cases have established a history of temporary leases being worked out without oversight from the council, residents at Wednesday’s council meeting expressed their displeasure for this particular 60-day lease, as it involves a sitting council member.
“How can a town manager make a deal with a sitting council member with no oversight?” Minturn resident Barry Clark asked the council.
“You as council members should at least let the public know what’s going on when you’re doing something like this,” Aggie Martinez said.
Powell said in this case, he looked to previous examples of temporary leases being granted without council oversight when a matter of urgency has been expressed.
“I made an administrative decision by my authority as town manager to allow him there on a temporary basis so long as we negotiated an acceptable lease within a 60-day period, a lease approved by the Town Council, approved by the town attorney, and if that wasn’t the case then he was to vacate the premises, but during that time he was allowed to put up one greenhouse,” Powell said.
ROOT OF THE ISSUE
The urgency comes from the nature of Rosenfeld’s trade. While Rosenfeld said he was expecting he would need to vacate the premises at which he had long been in business due to a change in ownership of the land, the eviction came sooner than expected and he found himself sitting on several truckloads of bedding plants which needed a greenhouse.
“This process started about a year ago. I have been talking to members of the town staff for a year or more about potentially relocating if these properties sold,” he said. “I looked at properties in Eagle-Vail, Edwards and Eagle, and as a sitting member of Town Council I believe strongly that a strong, vibrant business community is the most important aspect and one of the responsibilities which I am charged with. The production of these greenhouses alone produces several thousand in sales tax revenue for the town, and I also saw it as an opportunity for the town to earn some revenue on the rent, which I’m now paying a private entity.”
The town manager said a long-term lease for Rosenfeld, if granted by the council, will net $60,000 to $80,000 annually for the town.
Martinez said as a former council member, he knows the town could use the revenue generated from the lease.
“But let’s do it right,” Martinez said. “I’m not against Johnie’s Garden, because I know he needs the property, but there’s other places that you can think about putting him up … you’ve got a lot of property.”
Council member Shelley Bellm said there’s not always going to be a public input process for decisions like this one.
“As the property owner, we do have the right to do what we were allowed to do with that lease,” she said. “Trying to get business done on this Town Council is slow enough. If we had to have everyone notified of everything we do all of the time, we’d never get anything done. We do, as a town, get to make decisions on our own, and unfortunately it will impact other people. I don’t have a right to say what my neighbor or the person across the street can do on their property.”
Clark said he was offended by the suggestion that a town resident doesn’t have a say in how town-owned land will be used.
“The town is made up of the citizens,” Clark said. “You don’t own the property, Shelley Bellm. The town owns the property, and the town is made up of the people. When a town manager can say to a sitting council member, ‘Yes, move your greenhouse here, construct your greenhouse,’ that’s incredibly inappropriate.”
Town attorney Mike Sawyer said there’s nothing in the town code that establishes a proper process in situations like these, and he suggests the town discuss in a work session whether some additional structure should be developed in moving forward.
“It’s always the toughest thing when a person in Town Council is involved in a business function,” said Mayor Pro Tem George Brodin, likening the situation to coaching your own child on a baseball team.
“You always come to scrutiny, and you always worry about it,” Brodin said. “Maybe we need a little more structure to the process. I don’t think anything has been done here that was wrong or improper, in terms of doing it the way we have been doing it, and treating Johnie different than anybody else. We’ll have to see a lease, and we’ll have to approve or not approve a lease — that’s still coming.”
The Minturn Town Council’s next meeting is scheduled for April 29.