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Last updated 9:17PM ET
December 14, 2017
KSUT Regional
KSUT Regional
Mayor Defends Twin Buttes Visit, Friend Disputes Her Story
(2008-09-25)
(ksut) - VICTOR: Proponents of the Twin Buttes development west of Durango are worried Durango's mayor compromised her objectivity on the project with a visit to the Buttes last week, which could make her ineligible to cast a vote on the project.
Renee Parsons says she did nothing wrong.
But one of those with her disputes part of her story.
KSUT's Victor Locke reports.

VICTOR: Durango city councilor and Mayor Renee Parsons and two others, Chris Paulson and Lazlo Szuecs, made an uninvited visit the Twin Buttes site and neighboring private property owned by the Rasdall family last Wednesday.
PARSONS: WE WERE GOING ON A HIKE AND IT WAS TOTALLY MY RESPONSIBLITY, I TOLD THEM I WANTED TO SHOW THEM THIS GARDEN. BUT WE DIDN'T GO THERE WITH THE IDEA THAT WE WERE GOING TO HAVE SOME EX PARTE COMMUNICATION BECAUSE WE HAD NO IDEA, I HAD NO IDEA THAT HE WAS GOING TO BE THERE.
The visit was made despite the fact the proposed 595 home Twin Buttes development and annexation are considered quasi-judicial matters before city council.
That means councilors are to refrain from ex parte, or one sided discussions on the project, and must weigh it solely on what is presented in a public meeting.
Details of the visit are contained in a letter from Denny Ehlers, the attorney for Twin Buttes developer Eric Flora, sent late last week to council members, the city manager, city attorney and others.
EHLERS: WELL IT'S A SERIOUS CONCERN GIVEN THE DISCUSSIONS AT PAST CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS, SPECIFICALLY ON TWIN BUTTES, ABOUT HOW IMPROPER IT WOULD BE FOR COUNCIL MEMBERS TO HAVE DIRECT, WHAT THEY CALL EX PARTE COMMUNICATIONS, WITH THEIR PROJECT PROPONENTS, THE APPLICANT INCLUDED, OR PROJECT OPPONENTS.
Parsons and Paulson have both been outspoken advocates of considering the annexation of Twin Buttes separate of and before they consider the development plan.
That way, the annexation would become a legislative matter, not governed by the stricter quasi-judicial guidelines councilors must abide by for a development plan.
Paulson has also spoken out repeatedly at council meetings in opposition to the development.
Ehlers says while Parsons toured the garden, the other two confronted Flora and began questioning him on his plans for the garden as part of the development.
Parsons claims she doesn't know what they discussed.
PARSONS: WHEN I WAS IN THE GARDEN, I KNEW THEY WERE TALKING, I COULD HEAR VOICES, BUT I COULDN'T HEAR WHAT THEY WERE SAYING.
Ehlers says Flora denied a request by the three to tour the remainder of the property.
A short time later they were spotted on an adjoining parcel that overlooks Flora's land.
Parsons says they were just continuing their hike.
Lazlo Szuecs, who accompanied Parsons and Paulson refutes part of Parsons claims.
Szuecs, who describes himself as a mountain climbing friend of Paulson, says they weren't there on a hike, but instead Paulson invited him to go along saying she wanted to view the project property and see if there was anything she found objectionable in the development plan.
Szuecs says he personally is against Twin Buttes and would rather see other areas developed first.
Paulson could not be reached for comment.
Ehlers says the incident raises other serious questions.
EHLERS: THE CONCERN WE HAVE IS ABOUT FAIRNESS IN THE PROCESS FOR THE HEARING, AND THE OBJECTIVITY OF THE MAYOR GIVEN THAT SHE'S THERE WITH TWO PROJECT OPPONENTS IN A MOTOR VEHICLE COMING UP ON THE PROJECT. SO IT DOES CONCERN US.
For now anyway, Ehlers says they don't intend to ask that Parsons recuse herself from any further consideration of Twin Buttes.
Parsons says she's briefed fellow councilors and the city manager on her visit in an email.
PARSONS: YOU KNOW IT WAS TOTALLY BY ACCIDENT SO, I DON'T THINK IT'S REALLY A PROBLEM YOU KNOW BECAUSE WE DIDN'T TALK ABOUT ANYTHING, WE WEREN'T EXPECTING TO SEE EACH OTHER.
Councilor Leigh Meigs says after reading that email, she still has concerns, which are similar to Ehler's.
MEIGS: I THINK WE UNDERSTAND A LITTLE BIT BETTER THAT THE MAYOR WAS NOT ATTEMPTING TO MAKE CONTACT WITH THE APPLICANT, BUT THE PART THAT REMAINS UNANSWERED IS WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE MAYOR ACCOMPANYING OPPONENTS OF THE PROJECT UP TO THE PROJECT SITE, WHICH IS ALSO AN EX PARTE COMMUNICATION, EX PARTE CONTACT BETWEEN THE MAYOR AND OPPONENTS.
Councilor Doug Lyon says he's also concerned about Parsons actions.
LYON: WELL I BELIEVE THAT IT'S VITALLY IMPORTANT THAT WE MAINTAIN, THAT CITY COUNCIL MAINTAIN BOTH THE APPEARANCE AND THE FACT OF IMPARTIALITY WHEN WE'RE ASSESSING ANY PROJECT THAT COMES BEFORE THE CITY COUNCIL BECAUSE THAT IMPARTIALITY IS VITAL TO MAINTAINING THE INTEGRITY OF THE PROCESS.
Councilor Scott Graham says he wouldn't be surprised if the matter needed to be settled at a council meeting, he's still looking at her actions.
Councilor Michael Rendon couldn't be reached for comment.
City Attorney David Smith says its important Parsons put her side on the record at a public council meeting.
Parsons actions come just about one month before public hearings on the Twin Buttes annexation and development are to be held before city councilors.
From KSUT, Four Corners Public Radio, I'm Victor Locke.
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