Aigner accuses developers, officials of malfeasance

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Brian Ray/file photo

Steve Aigner

— When Steamboat Springs City Council debated affordable housing in January, the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley was given a seat at the table, along with representatives from the local development community and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.

It was a decision Councilman Walter Magill and others didn't seem to understand.

"Who are you guys?" Magill asked Community Alliance organizer Steve Aigner.

Aside from revealing its board members and its mission statement, the Community Alliance has closely guarded its membership, declining requests for a list of members because of a fear of retribution from employers and others. It claims about 200 members. While that only represents about 1 percent of Routt County's population, the organization also claims to represent the majority of residents against special interests.

The nonprofit group was created in 1999. Growth and development always have been the Community Alliance's major focus, and throughout the years, group leaders frequently have spoken out about issues of importance to members such as Triple Crown and gravel pits. The organization also hosts lecture series, presentations and candidates' forums and once a year honors its New Pioneers of the Yampa Valley for practicing sustainability.

In its early years, Community Alliance board members often spoke publicly on behalf of the group. Recently, however, the group has leaned more on its organizer. Since he was tapped for the position in early 2008, Aigner has been a frequent face at City Council meetings and other venues.

A video of an April lecture Aigner gave at Iowa State University has received substantial attention locally for what it may reveal about the group's views.

Seemingly contradicting the Community Alliance's claims that it is not anti-growth, Aigner said in the lecture that the organization has "fought growth forever" and that "no growth would be the preference for at least half the members." Aigner, a professor emeritus at the university, also claims that real estate and development interests historically have controlled local politics.

Community Alliance officials have argued that the lecture has no local relevance. But in addition to his words 700 miles away in Ames, Iowa, Aigner actively has expressed his views locally about issues including affordable housing, real estate taxes and water rights.

In e-mails obtained by the Steamboat Pilot & Today, exchanged in May between Aigner and local developer Tony Connell, for example, Aigner levels about a dozen accusations against developers, public officials and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority. Among the allegations, Aigner claims collusion between developers and YVHA and illegal behavior by a former City Council president. He writes that "80 percent of the community who do not directly benefit from development have been 'played' by this City Council."

The e-mails and responses - whether including Aigner or council members, developers or housing officials - reveal a lively, argumentative and largely unseen web of communication that lies in the background of public meetings and decisions about the future of the Yampa Valley.

Deed restrictions

The exchange with Connell began with Aigner questioning one of the developer's projects, West End Village. Aigner suggests in the e-mails that records of deed restrictions and second mortgages in the neighborhood "fell through the cracks." In one of the e-mails, Aigner writes a bulleted list of nefarious behavior throughout the community that he claims to have knowledge of.

As Connell told Aigner, and the Steamboat Pilot & Today has confirmed, the records in question for West End Village are kept by, and available for inspection with, YVHA.

Also in his exchange with Connell, Aigner discusses an e-mail he was forwarded in April 2007 from City Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski to developer and real estate broker Jim Cook. Aigner said that e-mail captured completely the subsequent campaign he led that November against Hermacinski and other candidates who were said to be "in the pocket" of developers. Hermacinski was a city planning commissioner at the time.

In the e-mail in question, provided to the Steamboat Pilot & Today by Hermacinski, the councilwoman writes, "I am very concerned about the direction this (City Council) is taking this community. I would like to see more vocal and represented involvement of the development community and wonder if you, as a group, are turning your minds to the November elections when 5 of the seats will be up for re-election."

Transfer tax

Aigner also claims in his e-mail to Connell that Danny Mulcahy, principal and project manager for the proposed Steamboat 700 project seeking annexation, had inappropriate conversations with Routt County Commissioner and YVHA board member Nancy Stahoviak. Noting that YVHA stands to benefit from the proceeds of a real estate transfer tax within the development, Aigner suggests the two discussed citing YVHA in exhibits of Steamboat 700's annexation agreement with the city "thus constituting : conflicts of interest" and agreements made outside of the proper public forum.

Mulcahy and Stahoviak denied the claims.

"Any conversations I've had with Nancy Stahoviak have been in a completely public forum," Mulcahy said.

Stahoviak said she never has had a private meeting with Mulcahy and said she was "totally baffled" by Aigner's claims.

"We have never had any discussions about citing YVHA in any part of the annexation agreement," Stahoviak said. "I don't have a clue what he's talking about."

Aigner also claims that YVHA colluded with developers by uninviting city staff to a meeting when the real estate transfer tax was first discussed. YVHA's new projects subcommittee did meet with developers in December to discuss the proposal. YVHA Asset/Program Manager Mary Alice Page-Allen said the committee was trying to work with one group of stakeholders at a time and that the city was involved in the decision to allow the committee to have a discussion with developers only. Nonetheless, the subcommittee meeting was an open, public meeting, and anyone could have attended.

When the idea of a real estate transfer tax was presented to the full YVHA board later that month, two City Council members were present.

Page-Allen and Stahoviak also noted that two YVHA board members - President Ed MacArthur and Catherine Carson, a member of the Community Alliance - sit in on city staff meetings when Steamboat 700's affordable housing plan is discussed.

Housing

Aigner also claims in the e-mails that Resort Ventures West, developers of Wildhorse Meadows, manipulated a contract holder for one of its affordable housing units and lied to the city about applying for a federal condominium financing program. Aigner also addressed the items related to Resort Ventures West during public comment at a City Council meeting and in letters to council members.

"I have had a First Tracks homebuyer tell me that RVW canceled an appointment to close on his unit because RVW wanted to strike a deal with (City Council)," Aigner wrote.

Mariana Ishida, development manager for Resort Ventures West, said she called a meeting with all of the First Tracks contract holders to discuss their options given financing difficulties. Ishida said no closing appointments existed to cancel and that none of the contract holders were ready and able to close. She said she told the group that their options included extending their contracts or working something out with the city, which ultimately is what happened.

"All we were saying is, 'We'll give you the time you need,'" Ishida said. "We have only terminated contracts on request."

Aigner based a claim that Resort Ventures West lied to the city on a report written by city staff for the May 5 City Council meeting. The staff report said Resort Ventures West told the city it was applying for condominium financing through the Federal Housing Administration but had not. Ishida produced correspondence showing Resort Ventures West has been working toward applying for the FHA program for more than a year but has not completed a list of items necessary to comply. For example, FHA requires that 51 percent of a condominium project be pre-sold or under contract, but First Tracks never has come close to reaching that threshold.

Water

Aigner also writes in his e-mail to Connell that former City Council President Mary Brown acted illegally by signing an agreement to grant an easement to the city for a water line across a 540-acre parcel she owned west of Steamboat. In exchange for the easement, the agreement states that the city will provide taps free of charge on the property. A temporary easement agreement was signed in 1993 by Brown and her former husband, as the property owners, when she was City Council president. The agreement became permanent after the water line's construction in 1995. Former City Manager Harvey Rose signed the agreement on behalf of the city.

"My recollection is that City Council, without me included in the action, voted to authorize the city manager to sign, in part because I couldn't because I was president of council," Brown said. "I stepped down for and in fact left the room when that happened."

The land in question was sold to Mulcahy and his Steamboat 700 partners in 2007. Aigner also writes that Steamboat 700 behaved deceptively by claiming that the Brown easement agreement required the city to supply water to the property and that the development shouldn't have to bring water rights or money to develop existing water rights to the table as a condition of annexation. The city argued otherwise and is requiring Steamboat 700 to pay about $1 million to develop existing water rights.

"To claim that it's some kind of conspiracy is excessive," said Bob Weiss, an attorney representing Steamboat 700. "It's just a debate about what the agreement means."

E-mail privacy

Aigner would not comment for this story.

"I do not have authority from the Community Alliance to speak about matters other than statements I make in public about positions on issues taken by the Community Alliance or its subcommittees," Aigner wrote in an e-mail. "I do not have permission from my family to comment on anything I may have sent or may have received as a private e-mail. We treat all e-mails as private communications and, therefore, e-mails are intended as private communications and meant only for the direct receiver.

"If an e-mail is forwarded without the permission of the original sender, we see that as a violation of the implicit, original and mutual understanding of the communicators regardless of what may happen subsequently."

Comments

steamboatsprings 5 years, 4 months ago

Its now hard to believe much of what Steve says given what his video and subsequent quotes in response have revealed. It's priceless how he talks about private emails that he has obtained then is quoted in the last two paragraphs above that he treats all emails he has received as private communications and meant only for the direct receiver. It think it is clear that whatever he may say that he does not hold himself to very many ethical standards in the pursuit of what he knows to be truth even though he has proven it is difficult for him to tell the truth.

Perhaps the truth is too inconvenient to him including who the CAs's members are (he has said half are not residents leaving only about 100 by his count) and that the CA really doesn't represent the community of Steamboat better than our elected officials.

It's great if they can be honest participants in the debates that shape our future as they often have some good points but it is now difficult given their own words to trust anything they say, who they supposedly represent and any positions they advocate. Again this is based solely on their own words and incredibly effective efforts to confirm everything they denied about them.

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 4 months ago

The lecture video also includes a discussion on how T Boone Pickens is secretly buying water rights in Texas and suing to keep it secret. Meanwhile, in reality world, a Google search finds all sort of references and Wikipedia's entry on Pickens mentions it along with quotes from him on why it is a good investment. I guess T Boone Pickens must only be worried about printed versions of his grand conspiracy and doesn't care about it being mentioned on the internet. Or maybe Aigner and his buds are the left wingnut version of the birthers.

Nor does he acknowledge that contrary to his theories that SB is totally in the hands of developers that well financed Alpine Mountain Ranch had it's request for annexation turned down. Or that well connected Ed MacArther was turned down for his project that became the ski jump into the lake.

He didn't even acknowledge that the SB 700 land is specifically mentioned in the long term community plans as where SB is supposed to grow.

And so on. The lecture has a consistent them of locals too stupid to understand consequences approving every development while Steve Aigner saves the day. And it appears this is really what he thinks is going on.

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 4 months ago

As the article confirms these are Aigner's complaints with development. Rather than dishonesty or subterfuge, Aigner submited the entirety of his argument directly to a developer.

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 4 months ago

Scott, the video also has Aigner complimenting one rancher for his conservation easements, and another rancher for his extensive knowledge of history.

You acknowledge only the facts that make your case. You've ignored those inconvenient facts that make Aigner less than the picture you want him to be.

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 4 months ago

steamboatsprings, Given these are Aigner's words written directly to Tony Connell, a developer, where do you find the logic to write:

"It's great if they can be honest participants in the debates that shape our future as they often have some good points but it is now difficult given their own words to trust anything they say, who they supposedly represent and any positions they advocate. Again this is based solely on their own words and incredibly effective efforts to confirm everything they denied about them."

How on earth do you claim that sending your complaints about development directly to a developer is a bad thing?

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 4 months ago

Steve Aigner's complaints to Tony were made to an individual. Now. it stands to reason, the public will want these complaints answered.

One strikes a note I already had interest in:

There has been an implicit understanding that YVHA would be receiving much of Danny's transfer fee. Danny may have argued for such, I'm not sure. Should Nancy, a member of the YVHA board, step down on votes that affect Danny, such as the county funding the road from Danny to Elk River Road?

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 4 months ago

As I said Scott, I respect these people and would not have published this list of complaints.

It's my belief that Steve Aigner would not have published his list of complaints. In fact, he did not.

Its one thing for Steve Aigner to criticize a group privately, to one of their own, and seek answers to his complaints discreetly. It's another thing entirely to put this list in the Sunday paper.

Steve Aigner has no responsibility whatsoever to press his list against these people in public. That was never a line he attempted to cross, and never a pressure he attempted to apply.

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Fred Duckels 5 years, 4 months ago

This group was instrumental in the introduction of covert operations to a predominantly handshake community, decades ago. Now they seem to assume that the natives are beating them at their own game. CA has been very active in using the affordable housing tool to achieve the goal of the day. This affordable housing is mostly a political tool with the true objective almost forgotten. CA champions AH and then wants to take 700 to a vote, the poster boy for the cause, assuming that the vote will not go their way if council votes. Next on the list is to run out the clock on 700 until a CA surrogate dominated council can kill the project. It seems like we have a group of elitists, with entirely too much time on their hands, looking down at a community of baffoons in search of a savior. The growth in recent years was completly out of hand due to escalating real estate prices, caused by government mismanagement from far away. CA's attempt to micromanage reminds me of activists against logging, slashing tires on a logging truck owned by a man with a family and truck payments to make. In the scheme of things all the meddling is futile in comparison to power of the market. If these folks of genius want to slay a real dragon, I don't think that petty political tricks in SB can offer much satisfaction. One observation of mine is that no one knows more about this valley than a two year resident, ask any tourist. If you want to know the leadership qualities of this group, look at the city councils dominated by their surrogates, most have been soap operas.

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Fred Duckels 5 years, 4 months ago

While on the subject of conspiricies, I think that Steve Aigner might be a plant by the Pilot to carry them through the slow economy. We will know for sure if he gets man of the year.

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 4 months ago

Steve Aigner: "Development Watchdog of the Year"?

Without a doubt.

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 4 months ago

Steve Lewis, I'm supposed to congratulate Professor Aigner when he gets a couple of facts correct? Are our expectations of Steve Aigner now so low that we are to be happy when he gets two things right?

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 4 months ago

Fred, Read the Pilot story on "House of Cards". More money changing hands in Steamboat than one would ever believe. Over a billion $ one recent year.

BARC, SB700, Atira... these groups hire big shot attorneys and spend hundreds of thousands of $ on local and distant professionals to represent their interests.

My group relies on volunteers who simply care, and can afford maybe $20/hr, 20 hours a week, to pay one man, Steve Aigner.

How can you insist my little group dominates local politics?

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 4 months ago

Scott, Its simple Scott. You make a choice in deciding what informs your comments. In my opinion, as relates to you and me, the above story's email has far more relevant complaints, right or wrong, than Iowa's video.

Yet your comment has no hint of interest in Steve's complaints above, made directly to a local developer. Your comment only expresses interest in a week old story, Steve's presentation to a classroom in Iowa.

Today at least, you seem far more intent on the messenger than on his message.

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 4 months ago

In light of the story above, I'll be damn surprised to hear anyone say Steve Aigner has been anything less than completely honest in expressing his beliefs.

How many of us take our complaints directly to the object of our complaint?

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 4 months ago

Let's calm down.

I've been surprised at this publishing; Last week the distant video of, and now the emails of, a friend. (I have definitely been defending in here!)

But that doesn't make me lose sight of the respect I have for the other people listed in this article. To his credit, Steve took his complaints straight to the most local developer, and strongest Cari supporter he knew, Tony Connell. I'm sure neither of them wants their debate aired like this.

I continue to respect Brandon Gee's journalism. This article would be his job to act on and present to his bosses. What I do not understand is their choice to go here.

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4genlocal 5 years, 4 months ago

I agree with Steve A. true locals are ignorant. We have allowed people like him to move to our valley and become involved. Involved in politics, deciding what is best for us. Someone who can't tell the difference between stage coach and catamount is trying to push a watershed protection ordinance? Someone who recently moved here says we need to limit the number of new comers? Thinks winter carnival is just to attract tourists. This guy misrepresents himself (motor cycle on computer but does not own one) he also misrepresents what this valley is about. There are some who agree with him. But there are many who do not. Those of us who don't are often working and do not have the time to be as active as we should.

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 4 months ago

Steve Lewis, Do you think the accusations in the emails are true?

I remember the debate for the water line. The question was what path should it take and it went through the Brown's property because that is where growth was supposed to occur so it was the smart place to put it as well as being conveneint. And they took water taps instead of money for giving up the easement. If the agreement failed to say how many taps then that was some pretty bad legal work by the City. And if the City's lawyer did that intentionally and fooled the rest of the council into approving it then that would be grounds to be disbarred and for what?

I referenced the lecture in regards to a conspiracy discussion that closely mirrors the conspiracy thinking in these emails.

And the people knew that the new board members were "pro-growth", but the previous board messed up the historical preservation ordinance that could prevent homeowners from being able to do simple remodels on a home they didn't consider to be historic. And then they way overpaid for the Iron Horse. The election was more about getting rid of that city council and stopping those people from making more bad mistakes. (And where was savior Steve Aigner on those issues?).

And the CA is a secret group that claims 200 members so it is not obvious who is trying to intimidate whom.

And the water rights issue at SB 700 is not at all an obvious giveaway. It looks like SB has the rights to enough water and there is minimal conservation in SB which could change so lack of water does not look like a serious problem. And if SB 700 were to acquire water rights then they'd buy some irrigated hay fields to convert to dry land and then there'd be that much less active agriculture in the area. Nor is it obvious why One Steamboat and Wild Horse can so intensely develop land without bringing water while requiring water for SB 700.

If the CA thinks it is fundamentally wrong to not require water rights then they need to carefully, factually build the case. SB is not some Front Range city that is pumping groundwater faster than it is being replenished in which the lack of water rights is an obvious problem.

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 4 months ago

Scott, What do I think is true? Ask your local newpaper. They are the one choosing to publish the questions.

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 4 months ago

Steve, Now you too are chickening out? What good is a community organizer that cannot fight despite claiming to have the facts on their side?

You have the chance to dispute what the newspaper is printing by making your own arguments and present your version of the facts.

Explain why the agreement with Mary Brown was illegal.

Provide the evidence of improper meetings that the alleged participants deny happened.

Show what records regarding the West End project are not held by the YVHA.

Produce the person that wants to close a First Tracks affordable condo. Resort Ventures publicly claimed that no one is able to close so that'd really put the pressure on to close if the person is able to close.

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Fred Duckels 5 years, 4 months ago

4genlocal, The blogs are the worst nightmare for the CA, as it is very hard to get the average local out to meetings. CA has run unchecked for decades and now seem entitled and miffed that we are able to compete thru blogs and at least be heard. In the past I have gone to meetings and commented, but my cameo appearances were no more than comic relief. Steve L., how much does CA damage control czar pay? Are you saying that the developers would make hamburger of us, if not for the CA? I hear Atira stock is a real buy today. They have to be making a killing at our expense.

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Fred Duckels 5 years, 4 months ago

This Aigner event reminds me of the time intellectuals decided that Henry Ford was a dimwit. They proceeded to ask him questions to prove their point. Ford could not answer a question and he replied "I hire people to keep track of these matters".

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 4 months ago

Steve, So it is okay for the leader of an organization to be making accusations in secret, that do not withstand public scrutiny?

In terms of community and building associations, it cannot help to be making so many allegations of conspiracy. Someone into building trust and associations as compared to destroying would first ask questions and try to get some information and understand the situation before making accusations.

There are government conspiracies. Town Board of Oak Creek had a land use change involving a Town Board member. I was active because the proposed land use change to "Commercial/residential" did not exist in the land use code and the proposed use was clearly a commercial unit and a residential unit. They were claiming historical commercial/residential use because the family than ran the store also lived in the back part. I argued that was not the proposed new use and the Town Board after several attempts to get the wording right, did pass it as a remodel into a commercial and a residential unit. I later pursued the question of why they didn't pay a tap fee for adding a unit that they said I would have had to pay for each unit when I proposed a remodel adding units to a building. I find out that the minutes of that meeting said that the land use change was to "commercial/residential" and the tape of the meeting has been destroyed.

So now they are using the building as a commercial unit and a separate residential unit, the tenant does not work at the commercial unit. The Town is charging water and sewer for a residential and a commercial unit without ever collecting a tap fee for adding an unit. And all this happened, coincidentally, for a Town Board member. And my email of an official complaint of land use violation (person living there is not the person working there) has been ignored by the Town Clerk.

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 4 months ago

Scott, How much more of Aigner's flesh would you require? Not only are you blind to any positive within the fact that Aigner took his complaints straight to a developer; To you somehow, that fact is a foul. You describe it as "accusations in secret".

Huh? Would you rather Aigner took his complaints to the Pilot or the Local?

Scott, exactly, what's wrong in taking your complaint directly to the object of your complaint. Aigner was hardnosed, yes, but his path was to a developer's door. If you can't acknowledge the ethic in that, there's no further point in our conversation.

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 4 months ago

Steve, Tony Connell is a reasonable person to ask questions about West End Village.

What does Tony Connell have to do with an alleged conversation between Mulcahy and Stahoviak, First Tracks, and the '96 city council running a water line through the Brown property?

And if anything, Tony Connell's answers to the West End questions should have suggested to Steve Aigner to ask questions and get the information before making accusations about the other situations.

You are asking what is wrong to do something (taking the accusation to the source) that he did in only 1 out of 4 cases. So by your own apparent definition of what is right, he was wrong in how he handled 3 out of 4 conspiracy theories.

And presenting conspiracy theories is not being hard nosed. Hard nosed was releasing the emails to further impugn Steve Aigner.

The head of a "Community" group should have the manners to first ask questions to Tony Connell about record keeping before making accusations. He shouldn't be making the other accusations to anyone until going to those principals to get the facts.

When will the CA and you realize that Steve Aigner has way crossed over to being more harm than help? Can you not foresee that when the SB 700 is on the ballot that the developers will run against Steve Aigner and the CA which will make the SB 700 project seem far more reasonable than it's opponents?

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freerider 5 years, 4 months ago

Hey Steve Aigner....you have my support...Ive lived here since 1972 and I'm sick the the YVHA...they have abused there power for way too long around here...

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 4 months ago

Scott, Tony would have the highest relevance to the list of anyone. You reach your conclusion by omitting part of the list. I'll add two more:

Cari's email to Jim Cook. Tony Connell was one Cari's most ardent supporters. It makes sense Tony would be a good choice to talk to about this.

The referenced meeting between YVHA and developers. If Tony was there, I do not know. Tony was at a YVHA meeting I attended around that timeframe. In that meeting Tony was the spokesperson for the developer's plan to funnel RTF funding directly to YVHA. It makes complete sense Tony would be the man to talk to about this.

Again, Steve took his complaints to the door of a developer. Obviously he was seeking a discussion of them. That Steve chose to air an entirety of his complaints of the development community with this developer is completely rational to me. Certainly, Tony's opinion of the whole would be of great interest to Steve. You don't think so?

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 4 months ago

Completely rational to make accusations? Completely rational to talk to Tony Connell about Wildhorse not closing an unit? Completely rational to talk to Tony Connell about Mary Brown and a water line through her property 13 years ago? Completely rational to talk to Tony Connell about an alleged secret meeting between Stahoviak and Mulcahy (unless he is alleging that Tony Connell was at the meeting then Tony Connell is not the person to ask about it).

I'd expect a rational leader of a community group that has lived here for 27 months to first circulate that sort of thing with trusted friends within the CA and have the comments rephrased in a style appropriate for an educated professional representing a group with the words community and alliance in their name.

I'd expect a rational leader of a community group to minimize talk of conspiracies and nefarious behavior until collecting the facts that proves it. I'd expect a rational community group would insist that their leadership not talk about conspiracies and nefarious behavior until it was proven and was willing to make the allegations public.

And you talk like Tony Connell is in charge of some group that represents like 200 local developers.

As for the letter from Hermanski to Jim Cook, I don't see what it is supposed to prove. If a letter asking for support puts the elected official in the recipient's pocket, then I have Barack Obama in my pocket.

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Fred Duckels 5 years, 4 months ago

Aigner is upset at what he perceives conflicts of interest, but he seemed to indicate that the inside information from the commissioners office was very clever.

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