We are greatly humbled and so proud of the Brighton community this evening. Tonight the residents of Brighton united in a historic show of resolve and sent a message loud and clear to the government of Brighton: the old way of doing business is over, forever.
In the first recall election in Brighton’s 133-year history, Ken Kreutzer and the secretive, ineffective clubhouse that has been our City Hall for so long, has been rejected. The groundswell of support we received was awe-inspiring. This was a true grassroots campaign, and the People’s voice is clear and unequivocal: “business as usual” will no longer be tolerated in our city.
Tonight’s vote proved that the citizens of Brighton have come together to turn the page on the past failures of Brighton’s leadership, and are working together to shape our city and help it thrive in the years ahead.
Our goal now is to stay united as we tackle the tough challenges, hold our leaders accountable, and chart a new course for our community.
To the City Government of Brighton: we know and appreciate that so many of you are good, hard-working members of our community and we thank you for your service. But service we must have.
The overcharging of our residents and businesses must end immediately. Failure to complete projects will no longer be acceptable. Arrogant and dismissive attitudes toward the residents will no longer be tolerated.
No more long monthly billing cycles and tiered rate schemes that gouge our families and businesses. No more unfinished streets, projects that go nowhere, shoddy planning decisions, or developers allowed to fleece our city.
You serve the People of Brighton, not our politicians or their donors. Please remember that.
To our current and future City Council, you are now on notice: the lack of leadership, transparency, and accountability that we’ve seen the past several years is over.
The “good old boy” network is finished. With much of Ken Kreutzer’s support coming from outside of our city, even having seven times the money we did, plus a city government working overtime to save his job, it was not enough to keep the will of the people down. It is those people you work for: the hard-working residents of Brighton who play by the rules, pay their taxes, and share life together here in our neighborhoods. Never forget, you were elected to represent the interests of the residents of Brighton and no one else. No more backroom deal-making. No more developers and contractors on boards that oversee their activities. No more broken promises. No more walking quorums and illegal executive sessions. No more contracts awarded without bids. No more expensive PR firms and orchestrated “messaging”. No more collusion between elected officials and city employees. No more hiding the failures of our city infrastructure or the shortcomings of its leadership.
This effort to “clean house” began with the recall of Ken Kreutzer, but it will not end there. The residents of Brighton deserve and expect disciplined, cooperative, ethical and aggressively transparent leadership, and we will hold you accountable. To Philip Rodriguez and his family: the work you did and the sacrifices you made for our community will never be forgotten. You stood up for what is right and it cost you everything. We were honored and proud to stand alongside you. We sincerely thank you for your honesty, integrity and professionalism. We wish you the very best and all of God’s blessings as you tackle new challenges in your next city! You’re the best, Phil! Thank you.
To the voters and residents of Brighton: THANK YOU. Your hard work and determination to carry this movement through to victory is awe-inspiring. YOU made this happen. YOU came together and set a new course for the future of our beloved city. YOU gathered signatures, made phone calls, put up yard signs, and attended meetings to make our united voice heard.
We may have carried the torch, but YOU carried the day. We’ll be forever grateful for the friends and supporters (old and new) from all over our community.
As divisive and difficult as growing pains can be, we must now move forward as a community together united. We have every confidence this will happen, because we are Brighton.
Now let’s get to work!
Jeremy Torgerson, Matt Johnston, and Mary Ellen Pollack The Committee To Recall Brighton CO Mayor Ken Kreutzer
Did Mayor Ken retaliate against a whistleblower? That is the fundamental question and reason for the recall campaign.
The answer to that question is, absolutely YES.
The recordings and text messages below are just some of the evidence we have.
And not only did Mayor Ken conspire, but he led several other councilmembers to do it, too.
To explain the evidence we are providing here, let’s give you a timeline of events:
Philip Rodriguez was unanimously hired by the City of Brighton after a thorough, nationwide search and extensive vetting of his background and qualifications.
Mr. Rodriguez began working in City Hall after moving his family to Brighton. During this year, Mr. Rodriguez heard from many concerned residents and council member Matt Johnston about longstanding problems with water bills. He began to look into this issue in greater detail over the next several months.
Rodriguez placed Utility Director Curt Bauers on a performance improvement plan and insisted on utilities staff improving their performance and becoming accountable. He finds more serious deficiencies and that Director Bauers was the individual most responsible for the lack of accountability to the city manager and the public.
Mr. Rodriguez received his first annual performance review by Mayor Ken and the city council, scoring a 4.3 out of 5 out of 405 metrics, and earning a merit pay raise and additional benefits from the city. The vote was a unanimous 9-0 in favor of this positive review.
Mr. Rodriguez began work on his first full annual budget for the city of Brighton (the previous budget was created by then-acting city manager and current city council member Clint Blackhurst) with significant multi-million dollar budget shortfalls. Philip Rodriguez cut those shortfalls in half in less than two months, and was even publicly praised for doing so by then Mayor Pro-Tem Ken, mayoral candidate Kirby Wallin and mayoral candidate Wayne Scott.
During this process, Rodriguez began uncovering several other serious concerns with the Utility Department management, including a decade of unjustified water and sewer rate increases.
After delving into Utilities issues for a number of weeks, Rodriguez discovers $70 million in unspent and unbudgeted money in the Utilities Department. He fired Curt Bauers with cause, tells all utilities staff that he will not allow rate “gouging” to continue and would demand increased accountability, and then immediately alerted Mayor Ken and city council about the severity of his discovery. Each council member was offered personal briefings about his findings and concerns at the advice of the city attorney.
All but two council members agreed to be briefed – Lynn Baca and Clint Blackhurst refused. Mayor Ken was individually briefed for many hours by Mr. Rodriguez over three days, on September 17, 18, and 19.
Mr. Rodriguez also learned from the state that the city failed to conduct the required yearly financial audit under then-interim city manager Clint Blackhurst. He immediately takes action and requires staff to conduct an expedited financial audit.
Late September 2018
Council member Matt Johnston reported to his constituents via social media that it appears there have been pricing issues and billing errors in the Utilities Department, and informed the residents of Brighton of the discovery of the surplus funds.
September 28, 2018
Mayor Ken is notified by ICMA (International City/County Management Association) that past city manager Manuel Esquibel is publicly censured due to his unethical conduct while at the city and is banned from the largest professional organization for city managers in the world. Mayor Ken pressures the Brighton Blade to not run an article about this information and they oblige based on their close personal relationship with Mayor Ken.
October 2, 2018
At the end of a regular City Council meeting, Mayor Ken took the council into an illegal executive session (using a 5-4 vote instead of the legally-required supermajority of 6-3), and threatened Mr. Rodriguez’s job for the disclosure of the funds and the termination of Curt Bauers. Mayor Ken claimed he “has the votes” to terminate and flatly tells Rodriguez to quit or be fired. The plan is to vote to terminate Rodriguez immediately at the end of the council meeting if Rodriguez did not resign first.
The city attorney drafts and sends Rodriguez a canned resignation letter and continues to edit it without Philip’s knowledge while they sat at the dais. Mayor Ken prepared beforehand to appoint Marv Falconburg that night as the interim city manager, and Marv had already agreed, all behind the back of Philip Rodriguez and in violation of the City Charter.
The audio provided here is from the illegal Executive Session on October 2.
You can hear Mayor Ken call it to order, council member Matt Johnston rebukes Mayor Ken and warns the council that this attempt to terminate Rodriguez is retaliatory in nature for the disclosure of the utilities surplus money. You then hear city attorney Jack Bajorek tell the city council about his own serious concerns over Curt Bauers, followed by council member Clint Blackhurst defending Bauers, his personal friend and hand-picked protege in the Utilities Department.
This meeting took most of the council by surprise. The majority had not heard of any performance issues, especially considering they had just given Rodriguez a stellar review and an increase in pay for his good performance only a few weeks before. Blackhurst appeared motivated to retaliate because Bauers was a personal friend and his own successor in the utilities department.
Matt Johnston alerted the residents and local media of the attempt to fire Rodriguez over the newly-discovered funds that he and Mayor Ken had been briefed about, and asked the public to attend the next council meeting. Mr. Rodriguez’s job was spared largely because of the sudden public pressure that night, and that Mayor Ken could not secure one of the votes he claimed to have in his pocket.
Although Mayor Ken was on council for 6 years, including Mayor for 2 and Mayor Pro-Tem for 2 more, he claims to Fox31 he had no idea what the city and state laws were for calling an executive session:
Colorado law provides strict rules for the use of Executive Sessions, specifically to prevent public servants from abusing them to keep otherwise public matters secret.
Any time an executive session is not properly convened, it is an open meeting subject to the public disclosure requirements of the Open Meetings
Law. Gumina v. City of Sterling, 119 P.3d 527 (Colo. App. 2004).
Entering an Executive Session illegally, which Mayor Ken admits he did, voids the special protections of that meeting, and makes it a regular session, open to public participation and with strict requirements for retention of the meeting’s recording.
However, the City of Brighton, even after being told the session was illegal and to retain the recordings, destroyed them.
Within days, Philip Rodriguez proposed a “75-Day Work Plan”, an action plan to begin to resolve the many problems he discovered in the Utilities Department. This plan met with council approval; although his newfound antagonists on the council began speaking out publicly of their displeasure of Rodriguez and his plan.
December 2018 / January 2019
In creating the audited financial statements for the City of Brighton for 2018, Mr. Rodriguez and his newly appointed Director of Finance found 67 instances where the numbers being reported from within the city were wrong and were carried forward for years. This resulted in 67 restatements having to be done before the audited statements could be finalized.
Philip Rodriguez finds a number of additional, longtime deficiencies in the organization, and learns that assistant city manager Marv Falconburg is working with Mayor Ken and a few select council members behind his back to circumvent his leadership as city manager. Rodriguez places Marv Falconburg on a performance improvement plan and notifies him that he needs to resolve years of outstanding issues and to follow the City Charter.
Upset by having his performance called into question, Falconburg begins appealing to Mayor Ken to protect his job, an action that violates the City Charter and fractures Rodriguez’s leadership as city manager.
Mr. Rodriguez became so concerned over the serious financial discrepancies all over city hall, combined with the determination by Mayor Ken not to look into or resolve any of them, that independently, he informed state and federal authorities of his concerns as a private citizen, becoming a state- and federal-level whistleblower.
June 25 & 27, 2019
Mr. Rodriguez starts preparing council for the upcoming reality that they most assuredly will have to significantly reduce water and sewer rates as the rate study he began as part of his 75 Day Work Plan was drawing to a close. This required rate reduction would prove that residents had indeed been gouged for many years.
Mayor Ken states he has always supported a forensic audit, but this is a false claim. In an attempt to convince others to not vote for a forensic audit, Mayor Ken says to the council in meetings on both 10/23/2018 and 5/21/2019, “And we will do ourselves nothing but harm to when we go to the past. Let’s look for facts to make the future brighter. Let’s not look for trash to make our streets dirtier”. Conducting a forensic audit in Mayor Ken’s view, would cause harm and “dirty” the city.
Mr. Rodriguez also told the public that his job had been threatened before for making his findings public, and although he knew he was risking his job to do it, he felt the public had a right to know. Audience members in attendance told the council that any move to retaliate against Rodriguez would be met with a recall.
In a second session of council that same night, and at the proper request of two sitting council members, Greg Mills and Matt Johnston, it was reported to the entire council that Rodriguez had been pressured for a job in the city government for months by council member Lynn Baca, a direct and serious violation of city law.
Mayor Ken acknowledged that he had indeed been informed for more than a year but took no action because he’s “not the disciplinarian of the council.” He willfully hid it from at least four of the city council members and did not believe it was in their interest to know about the complaints from Rodriguez, even though they too were his supervisors. Council member Baca initially does not deny that the claims are true but instead highlights the technicality that it is outside the statute of limitations. This is also a repeated message in texts between Lynn Baca and JW Edwards preparing for the meeting.
Council member Clint Blackhurst was absent from both sessions.
Later that night, Mayor Ken text-messaged Clint Blackhurst, telling him he missed “a sh*tshow” and said, “We need to mobilize for next week.” That text message is here.
Mayor Ken later asked Blackhurst for contact numbers for the now 10-months fired Utilities Director Curt Bauers, which Blackhurst provided.
July 3-8, 2018
A flurry of behind-the-scenes “mobilization” was taking place between Mayor Ken and the four council members who would later vote in lockstep with him.
This text message from Mayor Pro Tem JW Edwards to council member Lynn Baca, for instance, asking on behalf of Mayor Ken if she will add her name to the list of members calling for a “special meeting” the Mayor planned for July 9, to begin the process to fire Rodriguez yet again. Baca replied, “Yep – if we are going to lock arms on this – we might as well start out that way.”
July 8, 2019
Mayor Ken sent a letter to the remaining four members of council declaring a special meeting for the very next day, with no further information or context. The only item on the agenda is to suspend Philip Rodriguez and place his termination on the agenda for the regular meeting on July 16.
In the letter, Mayor Ken states plainly, “Having conferred independently with council members JW Edwards, Clint Blackhurst, Mark Humbert, and Lynn Baca…”, admitting in black and white that he conducted an illegal process and unethical political ploy called a “walking quorum”, wherein he directly obtained the votes of other council members on official city business outside of a lawful assembly. Behind the public’s back, these same four council members would “lock arms” with Mayor Ken, as Baca described, and be the voting bloc that would eventually fire Rodriguez without cause.
No reason was ever given to the other four members of the council.
Assistant city manager Marv Falconburg was mentioned by Mayor Ken as taking control of the city immediately upon Rodriguez’s suspension, something they had tried but failed to do back in October.
July 9, 2019
In a packed and very contentious City Council meeting, Mayor Ken initiated the vote to suspend Philip Rodriguez, despite several pleas from the public in attendance, to wait for the forensic audit to conclude before taking any action against a whistleblower. Mayor Ken and these same four council members: JW Edwards, Clint Blackhurst, Lynn Baca, and Mark Humbert, voted as previously promised to each other, to suspend Rodriguez and place an item to terminate him on the July 16 meeting agenda. The only answer ever given as to the reasons the suspension was taken, according to Mayor Ken, is “a personnel matter”.
Marv Falconburg was installed immediately as acting city manager.
July 10, 2019
Council member Clint Blackhurst began appearing in local media, claiming that he had personally talked to “over 100” city employees about their now-suspended boss, in violation of City Charter about the separation of powers between council members and the city manager – a direct violation of the Charter he swore to uphold. Mayor Ken maintained that he cannot discuss “personnel matters”.
He did, however, reluctantly admit to Fox31 that Philip Rodriguez deserved the credit for finding and exposing the $70 million fund, even as he led a coalition of council members to oust him:
This move cost the residents of Brighton more than $150,000 in severance and leave pay to Rodriguez and risks hundreds of thousands more in litigation for wrongful termination and violations of Rodriguez’s contract terms.
The recall movement began that evening in the parking lot of City Hall and obtained over 300 signatures and 45 volunteers during this meeting.
To date, the city has spent in excess of $27,000 of taxpayer money on this firm, with more bills coming.
In his own words, Mayor Ken DID retaliate against a whistleblower. But perhaps worse than that, Mayor Ken also led four other council members to do the same thing.
Mayor Ken has lied repeatedly to the citizens of Brighton. He has plotted to quiet a whistleblower more than once. And he formed a voting bloc to push his agenda through council without even informing the other four members of council of the issues involved.
Through inaction, collusion to retaliate, misusing public funds for his own political gain, and inappropriate meddling in the management of city employees, Ken Kreutzer has demonstrated again and again that he is unfit to hold the position of Mayor of Brighton.
Brighton, ballots are here. We CAN and WILL remove this failed Mayor from office. This lawful citizen action will be an historic wake-up call to the city leaders and turn the corner on the culture of failure, ineptitude, and arrogance that has for so long festered in City Hall.
The Mayor and his friends say this movement is tearing Brighton apart. We strongly disagree. Mayor Ken himself caused this action. He is the divisive and destructive agent, and it is time to send him into retirement.
QUESTION: What do these 14 world-class cities have in common?
Los Angeles, CA
Las Vegas, NV (VIVA!)
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
ANSWER: They’re all cities that Mayor Ken has visited on the PUBLIC’S DOLLAR!
He’s enjoyed some of these places, like Ziębice, Poland, Vail and Breckenridge MANY times over again. Not bad for 6 years of public service!
In fact, our jet-setting mayor is pacing to take at least one publicly-paid trip every three months, for the entire six years he’s been involved in Brighton government. Mayor Ken loves his perks.
Now, even while facing a RECALL election, and while the rest of our elected officials will be discussing the highly charged and oh-so crucial water rates for the 3rd time, Mayor Ken is away, on the public’s dollar, in HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA this week!
HOORAY! It really does pay to be Mayor!
Yet, what’s maybe even more troubling, is that he’s knowingly missing a very important City Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 17, where the Council will discuss and vote on issues like that pesky backflow and cross-control program for utilities (remember that letter you got in the mail recently about potentially unsafe drinking water?), water rates (we think that’s a pretty important issue during this Recall election), water rights and the first annual review of the City Attorney – 1 of just 3 people who report to the Mayor and Council.
The City Council originally planned to take action tonight to lower our water rates, but Mayor Ken had them put that off for an entire month so that he could head out on his publicly-financed vacation.
He’s even choosing to miss an Executive Session where he would be briefed by the City Attorney on some apparent litigation that Brighton is facing. What a leader!
Is Brighton’s business so rubber-stamped or so unimportant that Mayor Ken would miss the first annual review for one of the most crucial positions in the entire city government, just so he can travel to another country on the public’s dime?
And this is the mayor who claims to “Bleed Brighton”?
He sure does. He bleeds us dry.
BONUS ROUND: Did you know that Mayor Ken already has a city-provided trip scheduled to enjoy the beautiful San Antonio, Texas Riverwalk just days after the November 5 election.Please join us to make sure he won’t be making that trip on the public’s dollar!
But what if you found out that they overcharged us and STILL failed to make sure that our drinking water was safe, clean and reliable?
Even worse, what if the city overcharged us, had $70 million of our money in the bank, and still failed to perform one of the most basic and crucial projects for any public water system to undertake?
That’s exactly what we’re now facing, and here are the startling facts about this situation.
The City of Brighton is in the process of mailing you a notification demanded by the State of Colorado, to inform you that, once again, they’ve taken from you and provided worse than nothing in return.
Once again, the City of Brighton failed to perform basic, minimal duties of the city water department. For a city with a project completion rate of just 23% for the last decade, this is no surprise.
But this time, their failures potentially put all of our health at risk.
FACT: The State of Colorado told Mayor Ken and the city over a month ago that they are now in serious violation of drinking water requirements in Brighton.
What does this mean? What should we do?
FACT: These words are straight from the State of Colorado about the City of Brighton’s water system:
“You may want to use an alternative drinking water supply (e.g. bottled).”
“If you have specific health concerns, consult your doctor.”
“(This violation) can lead to inadvertent contamination of the drinking water.”
“If you have an infant, severely compromised immune system, are pregnant or are elderly, you may be at increased risk and should seek advice from your doctor about drinking this water.”
At the start of our recall, shortly after Philip Rodriguez was fired by Ken Kreutzer, the City of Brighton’s Communication office began distributing a flier that they also shared across social media, to attempt to explain away the public outcry on the nearly $70,000,000 surplus sitting in the water department.
This flier was unsuccessful in calming the concerns of the city residents, long tired of being overcharged for their water and of a city staff arrogantly telling them to “go check for leaks”.
The flier made its first appearance only two days after the start of our Recall Campaign.
The original flier distributed by the city on July 18 is here:
The slightly amended flier now in circulation is shown here (click for a clear image).
And it references this CAFR Audited Financial Statement for the Brighton Water Department from December 31, 2018, shown here (click for a larger image).
The circular is full of inaccuracies, political spin, and intentional misinformation, as our Committee has repeatedly spelled out for the residents of Brighton.
They call it a “Fact Sheet”, but very little of it is factual.
(This is your government, Brighton.)
The simplest way to deconstruct this flier is to walk through it item-by-item, which is what we will do below:
“Where is the $70,000,000?”
The city alleges that the fund is actually $61,3651,399 using the 2018 CAFR report as its source.
What they fail to mention is that this is the total amount of money in the UNRESTRICTED account (meaning, no projects attached to the money).
(See the CAFR, at the bottom.)
This is a separate line item and is basically a “holding account” of money not needed for current or actually planned (out for bid) projects.
There is actually nearly $200,000,000 in total funds in our water department, as you can see on the last two account lines of the CAFR report. The city only mentions the $70,000,000 in the unrestricted (any use / no use) fund.
Also, it’s important to note that water usage surges in the summers, but the figure being used by the city is from December 31, 2018 – the dead of winter. The city takes in between $15million and $18million in new fee revenue every year, and most of that is in the summer months. At the time of this circular, the unrestricted fund was very likely more than $70,000,000.
The city also makes the laughable claim – with certainty – that “there is no money missing”. While the Recall movement doesn’t allege theft, we do allege that this statement is nonsense. The fund has never been properly accounted for since it began to swell in 2011. There is no way to know, without a forensic audit, if money is missing or not.
“What projects will this money be used for?”
This portion is a deliberate deception by the City. The projects listed are already part of the larger “Net Investment for Capital Assets” line item on the CAFR report and are NOT being paid for – in any way – by the $70,000,000 unrestricted account.
In order for city funds to be allocated to a project, the project must be out for bid and the city council must have voted on it. The projects listed here are already part of the larger fund. As of August 15, 2019, there have been no votes of the city council to use any of this unrestricted account.
This part of the circular is an outright lie on the part of the city. Unless they are admitting that they violated the law and used these funds without a vote of the city council and a bid process, they lied to us.
“Are we paying too much?”
The city says here they are examining the question with outside experts, but it’s a process that was started by new (and now terminated) City Manager Philip Rodriguez as part of his 75-Day Work Plan to fix the water department problems back in December 2018.
The city also wants to tout that rates stopped climbing in 2017, but that was the direct result of Rodriguez putting a stop to rate hikes (after eight straight years of them), in one of the first decisions as new city manager.
“Will I get a refund?”
We could make a lot of fun at this non-answer, but suffice it to say, read for yourself.
“When will the forensic audit review be complete?”
The city is correct in the fact that the selection of an auditor is underway.
At the behest of councilman Matt Johnston, the city should now be looking at 2008-2018, so it may take months for this to be completed.
The City of Brighton has been overcharging you for water and sewer for years.
Finally, thanks to the work of Councilmember Matt Johnston, former city manager Philip Rodriguez and the energy and forcefulness of this Recall Movement, we can finally do something about it.
Please watch the following video. The supporting documentation and detailed narrative is below.
The city of Brighton began a series of water and sewer rate increases over eight consecutive years (2010 – 2017), despite the utilities department never showing a budget shortage.
The city council used an atypical and questionable process called a “re-budget amendment” to justify the rate increasesafter every time they raised water rates. This allowed them to vote for the water and sewer rate increases and have discussions away from the usual annual city budget process.
Because of these rate increases and a very poor project completion rate, the city’s surplus water, sewer and drainage funds grew to an average of nearly $70,000,000 in 2018.
New (now terminated) city manager Philip Rodriguez discovered this “slush fund” during his first budget creation process in September 2018.
Rodriguez informed Mayor Ken first, then within days met with all but two members of city council about his knowledge of the overcharges in mid-September, 2018. On September 17, 2018, Rodriguez met with Mayor Ken and discussed for many hours the unknown funds with him in depth. He then met with Mayor Ken again on September 18 and September 19 because it was such a significant issue to the public. Mayor Ken has since falsified in public statements stating that he was not made aware of the funds until October. Then, as we all now know, on October 2, 2018, Mayor Ken held an illegal executive session about Rodriguez to force him to resign or be terminated. Fortunately, it caught enough of the city council off guard, that Mayor Ken didn’t have the votes he thought he did to make that happen – that time.
Councilmember Matt Johnston informed the public of both the overcharges and the threat to Rodriguez’s job in October 2018.
Rodriguez’s “75-Day Work Plan” to correct our water issues included hiring outside experts to conduct a third party rate study of all utility rates over a period of approximately six months. Presumably, the city is still meeting with these outside experts, but that remains to be seen to us as of August 15, 2019.
In December 2018, Councilmember Johnston presented evidence of excessive rate hikes to city council and the public.
In late spring of this year, growing increasingly concerned about financial irregularities in the Brighton city government, as a private citizen, Philip Rodriguez officially notified the Colorado Attorney General and the US Department of Justice as a whistleblower.
In June, 2019, the outside rate experts confirmed to Rodriguez that the city had been seriously overcharging residents and creating an unallocated surplus in both water and sewer. Rodriguez drafted several emails to the city council preparing them for a soon-coming rate reduction to cure the excessively growing water fund. Rodriguez, in several conversations with members of council, indicated that the average decrease in both the water and sewer rates would be 30%.
On July 2, 2019, Philip Rodriguez presented to the public and the city council his grave concerns about the water and sewer fund and the overcharges happening to residents. He then calls publicly for a forensic audit of all utilities funds. Under public pressure, the council agrees to the audit, with Councilmember Blackhurst absent and not voting.
On July 8, 2019, Mayor Ken called a special city council meeting for the next day. The only item on the agenda was to suspend Philip Rodriguez and place a vote on the agenda for the next meeting to terminate him. No cause is given.
On July 9, 2019, Philip Rodriguez is suspended despite public outcry by an illegal walking quorum led by Mayor Ken in a 5-3 vote. Councilman Mills was absent but made many statements that he supported city manager Rodriguez.
One of the most public reasons this Committee sought the recall of Ken Kreuzter as mayor was his handling of the public disclosure of the overcharges in the city’s utilities funds.
It’s common knowledge now that the city has in its possession approximately $70,000,000 in excess funds collected from its customers, that has no declared or intended purpose according to the city’s budget. These funds were collected during the years of 2010 to now, as the city of Brighton began a series of annual rate increases in a highly unusual process called a “re-budget amendment” from at least 2010 to 2017.
We allege, and the city government has since begrudgingly acknowledged, these funds were the direct result of overcharges to the residents of Brighton over a period of years, most of which were purposefully implemented while Ken Kreutzer served on the city council.
What’s with the city’s water and sewer?
There are three main water and sewer related issues that we will address over the course of this recall election:
Irregular billing cycles push residents into higher rate tiers during peak usage months like July and August.
Eight consecutive years of rate increases, done outside the standard budget approval process, starting in at least 2010, that resulted in a nearly a 162% increase in fixed water charges to even have the luxury of having water at all, even if you don’t use a drop, and another 42% increase in usage charges for the water that you actually use. These massive rate increases came at a time when the average inflation here in Brighton averaged approximately 2.6%.
We have readily demonstrated to the residents of Brighton, with your own testimony on Facebook and NextDoor, the serious problem with irregular billing cycles. The city of Brighton responded to the public outcry, brought in large part by this Recall Movement and the public efforts of Mr. Johnston and Mr. Rodriguez over the course of the past 11 months, by offering a refund for a single bill (June-July 2019) to any resident affected by the long billing month. The city estimated that the average refund would be only $3.25 and would only benefit approximately 900 families. In doing so, the city has acknowledged that the billing cycles did result in overcharges.
A single month of analysis does not go nearly far enough, and the city knows that. This practice has been going on for many years, resulting in much more money being improperly taken from its residents. We await the city’s decision on whether to make right a long history of using long billing cycles to push residents into higher rate tiers.
The second issue remains open and is being thoroughly investigated, though we have proven anecdotally so far that simply having Philip Rodriguez addressing the issue by the summer of 2018 caused a number of residents’ usages to fall by 50% or more with no change to the household size or water usage itself.
The third issue is perhaps the most damning for the city, and the hardest to explain away.
Brighton residents have long wondered aloud why their water bills kept climbing, even as they continued to conserve and cut back on their usage.
The answer is as simple as it is frustrating: because the city kept raising your rates in a very quiet fashion.
In 2010, the city’s base water fixed charge was $6.11 per month. By 2017, the city had increased it nearly 162%, to $16.00 per month. In the same manner, the actual water usage rates increased by approximately 42% (varied by tiers and consumption). These 162% and 42% rate increases happened at a time when the average inflation here in Brighton was approximately 2.6%.
The reason given for the rate increases each year from 2010 to 2017 was that the utilities department had a budgetary shortfall and could not perform the projects on its slate without increasing its revenue intake substantially. This was the same excuse given each year, and they used the same off-budget processes to get it approved through the city council each year.
The problem wasn’t necessarily that the city needed more money to cover projects. That happens.
The problem was the city never even started most of the projects they claimed to need the money for. And in many cases, they never intended to do the projects at all.
In a speech given in December 2018 to city council, Councilmember Matt Johnston presented his research at a public meeting that packed City Hall prior to a council meeting. He clearly spelled out the seriousness of the situation:
2012-2013 Council raised rates yet again to pay for “more capital projects”. Utilities department was supposed to spend $7.7 Million. They only spent $1.4 million. (2012 Fee Resolution | 2012 Ordinance )
2013-2014 Council raised rates another time. Once again the city is told that they are behind and need more money for capital projects. In 2014 the council gave Utilities $8.3 million. They only spent $2.7 million. (2013 Fee Resolution | 2013 Ordinance)
2014-2015 Council again raised rates. The Utilities department was directed to spend a significant $32.4 Million to fix infrastructure utilities projects. They only spent $3.1 Million. (2014 Fee Resolution | 2014 Ordinance)
2016-17 Before the new Council was elected, and before the new City manager Philip Rodriguez was hired, they raised the rates one more time. (2016 Fee Resolution | 2016 Ordinance) This put $65.8 million more in the hands of our utilities department. They only spent $11.9 Million.
It was in September 2018, that the new city manager Philip Rodriguez, discovered this fund the city claimed it didn’t know was even there. It was Rodriguez who terminated the Utilities Director in light of this overcharge and the poor project completion rate, among other issues.
It was Rodriguez who alerted the council and helped inform the public. It was Rodriguez who refused to allow any further rate increases until the surplus and the other major issues with the utilities department were resolved.
It was Rodriguez who implemented the 75-Day Work Plan to fix the issues, including the new Smart Meter system, mandating no longer than 31-day billing cycles, and asking for an audit of the fund itself, since it had never been properly accounted for going back to at least 2011.
It was Rodriguez who insisted on hiring outside rate experts to study the city’s history of water rate hikes and help assess whether or not the fees were excessive.
It was Rodriguez who pushed the city to lower the fees for late payment and reconnect, and extend grace periods and warnings before shut-off.
It was Rodriguez who informed the public on July 2 of this year, despite ongoing threats to his job if he spoke up.
And finally, not getting the help of the council to rectify the issues, it was Rodriguez acting as a private citizen, who blew the whistle officially and informed the Colorado Attorney General and the US Department of Justice in the spring of this year.
How is Mayor Ken implicated?
We allege that the mayor, perhaps more than many other long-standing council members who voted on these rate increases, is culpable and should be removed from office for this rate gouging, for the following reasons:
Mayor Ken was Mayor Pro-Tem during many of the years of rate increases and the largest swelling of the “slush fund”. In fact, the mayor claimed publicly he did not know about the price gouging as late as July 2019, despite the fact that he was individually briefed by Philip Rodriguez nearly 11 months earlier and had voted on many of the rate increases himself.
Mayor Ken was Mayor for all of the time period during which the revelation of the overcharges came to light. He also repeatedly resisted attempts to make the matter known publicly.
Mayor Ken was the initiator of both attempts to terminate Philip Rodriguez only days after bringing the water department issues to public scrutiny. In essence and in fact, Mayor Ken initiated and championed the city council’s retaliatory termination of a government whistleblower, costing the city over $150,000 in initial severance pay, and likely hundreds of thousands of dollars still to be determined in litigation and outside investigation costs.
What you can do?
Although it cost Rodriguez his job and councilmember Johnston much political capital, their effort to reveal Brighton’s rate gouging has successfully brought the issue to the public’s attention in a way that the city of Brighton cannot ignore any longer.
In offering a few dollars as credit on your August bill, the city has already attempted, in a ham-handed, wholly insufficient way, to acknowledge the gouging their long billing cycles created. But they did so in a way that can only be seen as a slap in the face of Brighton residents after many years of being overcharged for their basic city utilities. Remember, those 162% and 42% rate increases impacted you and your neighbors, and unless your income increased by at least those percentages during that time, you were seriously and negatively impacted.
The citizens of Brighton need to demand of the city, while the recommendations of the outside rate experts and the pleas of Philip Rodriguez, Matt Johnston and the Recall Movement are still fresh in their ears that rates be lowered NOW.
The outside experts contracted to the city would have recommended an immediate rate decrease in water and sewer of some 30%. We believe that should now be the starting place for our demand.
Think about that for just a moment: what was your last water bill? Would lowering it by 30% have helped you and your family? How much a year would that save you? For many families, that’s hundreds of extra dollars every year that are rightfully yours, that the city took from you for no reason, and will continue to take from you unless they do the right thing and lower the rates now.
The city has already tried to explain away this $70,000,000 surplus with a hastily and ill-conceived “information” circular that they handed out to residents and posted online in late July. That was met with public scorn and the Recall Movement debunked it thoroughly.
They then thought offering a few dollars’ credit on your next bill would quiet you down. Again, they were wrong.
The time is right to force them to stop trying to pacify us, and start making permanent, lasting change.
The city of Brighton is watching social media very carefully these days, in large part due to the very rapid success of the Recall Movement. But larger media outlets, regulators and outside law enforcement are also watching what happens there, we can assure you of that.
So, we would like to ask the residents of Brighton to make your voice heard on social media, and make it loud and clear, and unmistakably precise.
On any city of Brighton Facebook post, we ask you to comment with the following:
We Demand 30! (followed by)
#gouged (and) #BrightonUnited
This will let the city (and the larger media outlets and law enforcement following our campaign) know that we as a city are aware of the rate gouging, and we are demanding action now.
We believe we can force the city to take rapid action on the rates they already know must be lowered, if we can unite and apply the needed public pressure.
As a community united, we can help bring immediate, lasting change for our families and our neighbors by making the city of Brighton admit it’s been knowingly overcharging us, and demanding that they lower our rates. This can happen in just a few days or weeks.
The city has been caught gouging us. They know it. They now know that we know it.
Together, we can force their hand to do the right thing.