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This is Part 1 of 3 Part Story. We recently sat down with Mayor Huseman to discuss his unanimous censure by the Commerce City’s City council on October 19th. Huseman, his wife, and their daughter, settled in Commerce City as he was retiring from the U.S. Air Force after 20 years of service. He was elected as Commerce City’s Mayor in 2019 and says that his main drive in life is to help others. Prior to his mayorship, Huseman served as a Commerce City councilman at-large.
This is what Mayor Benjamin Huseman has to say about his Unanimous Censure on October 19th:
Prior to COVID, Commerce City’s City Manager hired a consultant, Katie Press of KP Consulting, for $27k, to analyze retail efforts in Commerce City. The first part of her presentation was to occur at a business breakfast that was scheduled for March 19th but cancelled due to C19. The first of a three-part presentation occurred in July, and the second during a council study session on the evening of October 12th. As is his usual workflow, Mayor Huseman read the agenda and corresponding documents beforehand. According to Huseman, he found erroneous information in those documents that he wanted to discuss.
During the meeting Huseman asked a series of questions to both MS. Press and the Economic Development staff for Commerce City and expressed frustration at some of the responses provided. Councilwoman Grimes contends that his demeanor was unprofessional and made the motion to censure the mayor. Huseman maintains that the presentation by Press was erroneous in that it claims that the only state west of the Mississippi to have Aldi’s Grocery Stores is California.
Having shopped at Aldi’s while he was stationed in Missouri with the Air Force, he knew that was inaccurate. Further research by Huseman revealed that Aldi’s flourishes in several states west of the Mississippi, to include Missouri, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Iowa. His first question surrounding the presentation centered around how we can trust the validity of the information in the report presented with such an erroneous statement. Huseman also questioned the statement that northern Commerce City cannot sustain a small grocery store in addition to the King Soopers Marketplace that operates on 104th avenue.
The presentation stated that there are not enough residents to sustain another grocery store and he contended that the demographic information in the report showed there are 39,000 residents in Norther Commerce City and recent data shows 36,000 residents in Green Valley Ranch. Green Valley Ranch also has a King Soopers store and recently opened a Natural Grocers and is set to open a Sprouts as well. Huseman wanted to know why a trade area with less residents than Commerce City’s Northern Range can sustain three grocery stores, but the presentation is stating that a trade area with more residents cannot support two grocery stores. Huseman was frustrated by the answer provided that these grocery chains do not know how many residents when they have an Economic Development department that can be sharing this information. A recent review of the Economic Development Website for Commerce City found that housing data for the rapidly growing city hasn’t been updated in over a year. (https://www.redefiningcommerce.com/living-lifestyle/housing)
The next part of the presentation that confused Mayor Huseman was the inclusion of a statement made in the city’s 2010 Comprehensive Plan stating commercial development east of E-470 was unrealistic until the commercial areas on the west side of the expressway were completed. The Economic Development department advocated for the city to invest in helping bridge utilities across E-470 during a budget retreat in August of 2018. In September 2019, the city staff presented the city council with proposed annexation agreements that included the issuance of $7 million in general improvement district bonds in 2019 for the commercial property included in Third Creek West, with the developer advancing $6.8 million dollars for residential property that will be reimbursed by bonds from a residential general improvement district at eight percent.
None of the presentations provided to the city council included the statement from the 2010 Comprehensive Plan warning that commercial growth from this investment was unrealistic. Crowley Company obtained approval to build Third Creek West, a 50-acre mixed use development with 500k square feet of office space, which would provide 5,000 new homes and 6,000 new jobs. Huseman questions whether those number will ever be actualized given the difficulty the city has had in attracting commercial development.
Huseman also questions if the GID bonds authorized in 2019 for $7 million dollars are a waste of taxpayer money if the land east of 470 will not be developed until residential development on the east side is complete, and commercial development on the west side is saturated. Since he works for the taxpayers, he wants to know why the expensive bonds were advocated for by the city staff for commercial development, only to be swiftly discouraged by the Economic Development Department a year later. He brought up this issue at the October 12th meeting.
These tensions have continued to mount, with taxpayers asking Huseman where their city is heading and Huseman asking the city staff those tough questions. The censure was long in the works, according to Huseman.
A month ago, Councilwoman Grimes posted on Linkedin “Protect the Oil & Gas Industry,” which was brought up at a council meeting by residents who repeated their concerns that a conflict of interest exists when she votes on oil and gas issues. Huseman made a motion to consult with Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission, which was quickly condemned by his colleagues. He retracted the motion. Two weeks ago, Grimes introduced a motion to direct the Interim City Manager to determine if a conflict of interest exists and that motion was carried by his colleagues. The problem with the city making the determination, Huseman said, is residents who are concerned about a perceived conflict of interest are less likely to accept the findings of the city than they would an independent review.
In the last several weeks, allegations have swirled that Adams County Board of Commissioners have met virtually in private meetings to discuss business closures and mask mandates with Tri County Health, as well as planning meetings at the helm of Adams County’s hired firm Strategy with Rox. Meetings amongst more than two local elected officials must be posted and open to the public according to Open Meetings Law. Interestingly, Rox scheduled dozens of meetings with the Board, including weekly “Prep for Vaccinations” and other C19 related topics, without posting this to the public. Rox has several government clients and worked closely for Hickenlooper as well as Hick’s PAC Giddy Up.
We reached out to Adams County’s Deputy Manager Jim Siedlecki as well as Jodi Hardee, Commerce City’s Community Relations manager and were told by both parties that these meetings do not have more than two commissioners present at any time. Both statements insist that no actions or votes are taken, either, excluding the meetings from OML.
We asked Mayor Huseman if there are ever more than two elected officials present, and he said that there often are several county commissioners present and that they were starting their meetings with a roll call. In fact, he live streamed the October 8th and October 15th meetings in the interest of transparency, which was mentioned in the censure motion by councilmember Grimes.
OML (the Sunshine Law) does state that chance meetings and social gatherings are not subject to the above guidelines, and business must be conducted to be subject to OML. That said, Adams County has taken the word “business” out of context. A vote does not need to be taken for “business” that affects the public to be considered part of the public’s right to information. Unless those officials meet for casual conversation and cocktails, citizens would expect to be notified about topics that affect them, such as masks, business closures, and vaccinations.
Huseman asks a lot more interesting questions, which is why be believes many people either love him or dislike him for not being softer in his approach. Huseman says an ordinance was presented to the council in July without the proper background information, which was purposely withheld. An event that leads him to question presentations provided to the council, like the retail study on October 12th.
When asked about things that are important to him, he stated he wants to do something about speeding in residential neighborhoods and homeless encampments in the parks and open spaces that Commerce City residents used to enjoy. He wants to see more retail and dining options for the residents so that money stays in Commerce City instead of supporting neighboring cities like Denver, Thornton, and Brighton. Lastly, he expressed his desire for the city to do more to help the small businesses that are the lifeblood of the community. In fact, Huseman says that residents and business owners regularly express frustration about their inability to contact city staff for business permits, building permits, and other concerns. Huseman expressed his own frustration when the council was told that the city did not know what businesses were open and doing business in commerce City.
The Commerce City Mayor says that before COVID, he suggested inviting the core city staff, board members, and local residents into a bus in order to tour Commerce City’s neighborhoods and have an open dialogue about what is happening in the city. His vision, according to Huseman, was quickly chopped and later sidelined all together by city staff due to the pandemic. But he has massive plans to make residents feel safe and content again in Commerce City, and he has dozens of ideas about how to take back Colorado.
In the next part of this story, coming October 25th, Huseman lays out his plans for Commerce City, and he talks about what needs to happen to live up to residents’ expectations.
Totally exclusive to this page: Huseman talks about what he would immediately do as Governor of Colorado, what he would have done regarding federal intervention in the riots, and how he would get the homeless off the streets today, not tomorrow. Huseman also lays out his plans for a safer, cleaner Commerce City and State of Colorado…
But for now, he wants people to know that he will continue to ask the tough questions for the residents of Commerce City, as that is what he was elected to do. He says that he will continue to probe for the truth and ensure that he has all the facts required to make an informed decision for the residents, even if the council censures him every week, or every hour for doing so. He will still be here, trying to make Commerce City the place that residents expect, no matter what that means.