Officials butt heads over underpass plans

Posted 9/22/09

The crowded city council meeting about a proposal to construct an I-25 underpass at either Costilla Avenue or Alton Way generated more controversy in …

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Officials butt heads over underpass plans


The crowded city council meeting about a proposal to construct an I-25 underpass at either Costilla Avenue or Alton Way generated more controversy in and of itself.

The Sept. 14 public forum saw incidents in which some questioned the propriety of city government operations and led to two contentious reactions from elected officials.

District 3 Councilmember Rebecca McClellan, who has called the Alton Way proposal a “bait and switch,” questioned whether a city transportation adviser should only be working for city staff.

McClellan, the city’s representative on the Arapahoe Road/Interstate 25 Interchange Coalition, had been taken aback by the Alton proposal in a June presentation by Centennial Public Works director Dave Zelenok.

At the most recent meeting, McClellan, who is up for re-election in November, questioned the nature of senior transportation advisor Mark Mehalko’s relationship with Zelenok and the city.

Mehalko is an employee of AECOM, one of Centennial’s public works subcontractors. When quizzed by McClellan, he said he has been advising city staff on the I-25/Arapahoe Road reconfiguration since June of last year.

McClellan then complained that she had not known that Mehalko was available as a resource to the council and the intergovernmental coalition that includes Centennial, Arapahoe County and the City of Greenwood Village.

“I am very sorry to say I was not made aware that I had access to this help for the benefit of my citizens so that they would have an empowered strategic voice in this process, and I’m troubled by that,” McClellan said.

City Manager Jacque Wedding-Scott countered that the process is open and that Mehalko has been a valuable asset for the city as it has formulated plans for the I-25/Arapahoe interchange.

“Mark has been working directly with your public works director, Dave Zelenok, who has been instrumental in working with the coalition,” she said.

The second contentious moment happened during public comment, in relation to a charge that an Alton Way underpass would reduce property values and make residential areas near Arapahoe Road ripe for commercial development.

Resident Erin Jones made allusion to Mayor Randy Pye’s day job as a senior vice president for Capitol Solutions, a Denver-based public-affairs and lobbyist firm that represents some clients in the development community.

“We also have concerns about potential conflicts of interest with regards to Mayor Pye and his positions as a public servant for our community as well as in the development community,” Jones said.

The comment brought a strong rebuke from Pye, who challenged Jones to substantiate her claim that he is a lobbyist for developers. At his urging, she retracted the comment.

Pye’s biography on the city Web site says the mayor “leads the local government practice [for Capitol Solutions] and works with the development community in effectively moving through the local government land-use process that creates a win-win for the applicant and the community."


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