Council Manager Resigns Moving to Missouri to retire with his nest egg
Loveland - March 31, 2010
Loveland's City Manager Don Williams announced his resignation today and disclosed his intentions to cooperate with the city council in searching for his replacement until September.
Former Loveland City Councilman Walt Skowron, who served throughout most of the Don Williams' tenure as city manager, stated last year during his campaign for Mayor (when responding to critiques of Williams), "Don has two primary problems as the city manager, one he is autocratic and two he has no formal college education." According Skowron, Williams had been looking into leaving Loveland since 2008 but given his lack of formal education could not qualify for any management position in other Colorado cities let alone be hired as a city manager.
In July of 2008 LovelandPolitics speculated Williams was close to retirement given a specially crafted benefit he proposed to the city council. Williams approached the Loveland Council about a plan to award himself and just a few other long serving high-salaried senior employees with the option to retire early and received the full benefits of the city's health care package with the city continuing to pay medical benefits as if he were still full time employee. Williams was looking for a way to leave the city but as a diabetic was concerned about the cost of his pre-existing medical condition. Below is an excerpt of the explanation of the benefit he provided council;
"The retiree medical plan is designed to provide access to affordable medical coverage for eligible City employees who retire from employment with the City. The plan will be available for the next five years for employees who retire with no less than 20 years of service and are at least age 60. Eligible retirees can only be covered under the plan until age 65."
When asked whether he wanted to comment on a number of the councilors not wanting to pass the proposal Williams stated, "Yeah I do, but I ought to keep it to myself." Later in the same July 2008 council meeting he shot back to council a comment that staff would not raise the issue again - but like many issues Williams eventually got his way after pushing council into a corner of just a few bad choices. (see original nest egg story.)
Most city managers know better to stay out of council politics and also not to interfere in decisions by subordinates who are professionals in their fields. Williams regularly broke both these rules but managed to stay in the position eight years by what some have called "management by intimidation" or just old fashioned bullying. Elevating his position to something akin to a local strong-man, Williams was firmly in control of the day-to-day operations of the city and would use his power to the political advantage of his allies and detriment of those he didn't like.
Meeting several times with recently elected council candidate Donna Rice, Williams made no secret of his support for Rice while she was running for council. According to Rice, she was told as a candidate by Williams that his cozy relationship was ending with McWhinney. This apparently as a result of what Williams saw as damage McWhinney caused William's self-described "pro-business" faction on the council in 2008 elections by trying to wiggle out of their commitment on the I-25 & US 34 interchange.
Williams' assistance to Rice's campaign was clear from the beginning of her campaign. Rice, the Loveland Chamber of Commerce endorsed candidate, promoted more subsidies like that given to V-Net to stimulate bringing more jobs to Loveland . As Rice campaigned on a platform of wanting more special incentives given to certain businesses, Williams ignored council direction from executive sessions to begin collections on the disastrous V-Net agreement where the recipient sold all the assets he purchased with the city's subsidy money and was refusing to honor his personal guarantee of the funds. Such news would have embarrassed her campaign and raised questions about the efficacy of such programs promoted by Williams an the Chamber of Commerce. Conveniently, the stale news of the council's direction wasn't released to Loveland Reporter-Herald until after Rice had won the election thus it never became an issue in the campaign. see LovelandPolitics story on V-Net
Ironically, the Loveland Reporter-Herald published a story early in the year from the council's retreat that quoted Assistant City Manager Renee Wheeler making what appear to be deliberately false statements about the subsidy program's success. Any reader of the story would have the impression the city handled the funds well and created many new jobs with the program. Two of the only three recent recipients of the funds failed in bringing jobs to Loveland thus millions of dollars have been lost. An electric car company that was promoted by the newspaper as coming to Loveland to manufacture electric cars has scrapped the idea of manufacturing electric cars in Loveland but the subsidy to encourage the factory is still being reported as a success as was V-Net during the last election.
Back in the 2008 city elections Williams played similar games in negotiating what he knew would be an unpopular property purchase by the City of Loveland. Conveniently, the negotiated contract had a closing date of the same day as the election thus forcing a lame duck council into approving the purchase before giving the incoming councilors a chance to be involved in the decision. Former Councilwoman Jan Brown insisted they had already told Williams "to go get it" in closed session. She was apparently confused by Williams' disingenuous public comments that he was seeking for the first time council direction to appropriate the money to buy the property not realizing what she had participated in closed session wasn't legal under Colorado's open meetings laws.
In litigation currently ongoing against the city, Williams is accused of over-ruling professional building inspectors by overturning their decisions to red-tag a job site or stop-work when the contractor was found to be in violation of the city's building code or building without a permit. Builders on city council and a close network of friends were often the beneficiaries of Williams' autocratic leadership style according to the lawsuit which explains why he is protected and popular with certain special interests in the city.
Loveland's police and fire officials have also suffered the heavy-handed management style of Williams when trying to speak out for public safety. A former Loveland fire chief who resigned without explanation was reported to have had enough "layman intervention" by Williams over his decisions. Williams also promoted the idea that instead of building more fire stations to keep people safe Loveland could just "modify" the existing 5 minute response time rule for a house fire in the city to a "goal" of the department arriving in 5 minutes.
Loveland's popular current Police Chief has had to explain to his officers why they can no longer train at the Rocky Mountain Gun Club in Loveland because of Williams unilaterally declaring an embargo against the city doing business with two developers who have been critical of his management style of the city. In most cities a police chief could bring his concerns to the city council about public safety and his officer's ability to properly train but in Loveland these types of issues are not ever taken around the city manager for obvious reasons.
Perhaps the greatest damage done to Loveland by Williams' leadership was the MFA (Master Financing Agreement) for Centerra with the McWhinneys and subsequent McWhinney orchestrated amendments that slowly removed many of the original city benefits contemplated in the agreement. Williams was described as running about city hall in 2004 carrying a 1970's style brief case telling employees to "move at the speed of commerce" in response to McWhinney's many demands. Williams, formerly the motor pool manager for the city, was excited to be acting like he was an executive in the private sector.
In 2004, nobody in the City of Loveland was looking seriously into the long-term ramifications of giving a private entity the ability to raise public debt in the hundreds of millions of dollars and what would happen if they reneged on their promises. Now, with Promenade Shops in foreclosure and the McWhinney's having not completed a singled true regional transportation project despite receiving over $100 million in public bond proceeds people are paying closer attention on the city council.
Failing to seek competent outside counsel to assist the city in the 2004 master financing agreement (MFA), Williams allowed the developer's own attorneys coach the city's inside counsel who were way over their heads. Many inherent advantages for McWhinney remain in the agreement as a result but not proper remedies for the city if McWhinney defaults; which the city staff and council at the time appeared to barely understand. One former McWhinney employee told LovelandPolitics that McWhinney brothers were excited to see Williams come to his position as city manager because of his lack of urban planning experience meant the sky was the limit on what they could ask the city to do. This resulted in the disastrous and now infamous attempt at developing Grand Station and getting city taxpayers to fund their old fashion trolley for the development. It took a public uprising to stop the trolley subsidy but a later agreement was struck to provide some $80 million of tax dollars for a private parking garage on the now defunct McWhinney proposal thanks to Williams back room lobbying of the council.
Williams, still new to his job in 2004, was referred to as the "low hanging fruit" by the sophisticated Southern California McWhinney brothers according to one former employee who was there at the time.
It wasn't until the last couple years that Williams likely began realizing the mistakes he made subsidizing so much of Centerra that eventually cannibalized many jobs from within Loveland thus creating real blight in the community as those businesses moved east to Centerra. The huge tax relief given to Centerra means the tax base is not sustainable for a city so Loveland needs other businesses, like Schmidt's Bakery, to pay the full property and sales taxes McWhinney doesn't have to so the city can balance its budget. In addition, many of the resources generated along the I-25 are being siphoned back into McWhinney instead of going for the city's benefit were it allowed to develop without giving away property and sales taxes.
In the end, Williams' reign will be long remembered in Loveland if not for his bullying management style but the longer term financial difficulties he created for the city he will now soon abandon to play his banjo in Missouri.