LITTLETON — The election of two new Littleton City Council members in November, and the resignation of a member of the Littleton Invests for Tomorrow (LIFT) board has thrown the city’s Urban Renewal Authority (URA) into uncharted territory and has at least one member of LIFT frustrated.
Concerns are over Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman and the current LIFT chairman canceling all LIFT meetings until further notice. It’s a directive LIFT member Carol Brzeczek says the two are not authorized to make.
Brinkman did not respond to an interview request, instead asking Littleton Town Attorney Steve Kemp to respond on her behalf.
Urban Renewal Authorities such as LIFT are entities created by municipalities to help determine whether areas inside the jurisdiction are found to contain blight or slum and whether they are eligible for public/private partnerships to improve the property.
Although the members of LIFT are appointed by the Littleton City Council, state law governs how URAs operate. They have their own bylaws, in most cases their own attorney and operate outside the discretion of the entity that created them.
According to its bylaws, LIFT is made up of seven members that elect a chairman, a vice chairman and a secretary at the beginning of each year.
Brzeczek is questioning why the mayor and Kyle Schlachter, the current chairman of LIFT who was recently elected to city council and is refusing to immediately give up his role on LIFT, chose to cancel the December meeting as well as any future meetings until they can appoint three new members.
Bylaws say four is quorum, but also allow for a lesser number if needed.
“A smaller number may adjourn from time to time until a quorum is in attendance, action may be taken by the Authority upon an affirmative vote of the majority of the Commissioners present,” the bylaws read.
Brzeczek said there are some housekeeping measures that need addressed, but more importantly, that not meeting is in violation of the board’s bylaws. She said no one has the authority to cancel meetings arbitrarily.
Schlachter won’t authorize a meeting until the board is back at seven members.
Schlachter was elected as an at-large candidate to the city council in November. Karina Elrod was also elected as an at-large candidate for city council. She resigned from LIFT on Dec. 11. Ryan Toole, the vice chairman of LIFT, unexpectedly resigned for personal reasons on Nov. 10.
That leaves just four members. Schlachter, who has said he will resign eventually, technically makes it five, but his membership on LIFT is questionable now that he is on city council.
Under state law, one member of the city council can sit on a URA; however, in 2014, Littleton City Council passed a resolution that removed that requirement and appointed a member of the city council to act only as a liaison to the board.
Kemp wouldn’t give an opinion on whether he believed Schachter’s continuing role on LIFT was valid.
“I’m not going to respond on that,” Kemp said. “That question has not been asked of me by the council, and that is a question involving legal advice. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to respond in this setting.”
In emails obtained by Complete Colorado between Schlachter and Brzeczek, Schlachter is clear he should not be holding both offices.
Schlachter says in the emails he won’t resign until a full board is in place because he is concerned that if he resigns any sooner, there will be no one to sign on the bank account.
According to the bylaws, if the chairman resigns, a new chairperson is supposed to be elected at the next meeting. The December meeting was canceled by Schlachter, despite having the required quorum.
He adds he’s canceling all meetings because of the conflict.
“As Chair, I do not plan on calling a meeting, as I agree with you that I should not serve on both Council and LIFT simultaneously,” Schlachter said in the emails, calling it difficult to function with just four members. “There is no urgent action needed by LIFT (especially with a reduced Board), so I feel the best plan of action is to postpone any meetings until early next year. And from my discussions with the City Attorney, I feel the most prudent course of action is for me to remain Chair until the LIFT Board is fully reconstituted and a new member can take over the role of Chair and new signers can take that responsibility.”
Brzeczek said although having just four members is not ideal, bylaws need to be followed, and Schlachter lost his ability to be on the URA, let alone act as chairman, since he was elected to the city council in November. She said Schlachter is creating his own rules in violation of state law, and those rules are being blessed by Brinkman and Kemp.
“Difficult to function doesn’t have anything to do with by laws that say we shall meet,” Brzeczek said. “All I’m trying to do is fulfill an obligation. But we have a city attorney that has told him he needs to remain as chair and hold onto the checkbook.”
Schlachter’s full term as chairperson is supposed to be over in January despite his election, but emails show the board is likely not going to meet again until spring.
“Scheduling-wise, it seems that Council might be able to prioritize LIFT interviews at the beginning of February,” Schlachter said in the email. “I realize that this is not ideal, but with only four continuing Board members (I do not plan to continue, but I am still currently on the Board) I think it is imperative to wait until a new Board is fully identified until holding a meeting where a new Chair can be appointed.”
This is not the first time there has been controversy surrounding LIFT. In 2015, the city council nearly disbanded it.
Brzeczek, who also ran for city council but lost, believes Schlachter and Brinkman are trying to control the LIFT board for personal reasons.
“The mayor didn’t want me on the URA, and hasn’t supported my citizen activism in the past,” Brzeczek said. “We are being held hostage by a mayor and a brand-new city council member that have no authority over us. What makes it impossible for us is the city is so ingrained in the day-to-day operation of the Urban Renewal Authority that I can’t get access to our website and then city clerk is following the instruction of her council member who thinks he’s also still chair of the URA.”
Brzeczek said one the reasons the board needs to meet is to hire legal representation.
“We have no legal representation to go and challenge what’s happening,” she said. “This has left us in a bad situation.”