Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Board candidate spars with Colorado Springs City Council

By Monica Mendoza Published: March 31, 2014

A former city planner was on the hot seat Monday when he was interviewed by three Colorado Springs City Council members about his interest in the Urban Renewal Authority board.

Specifically, the council members questioned his position on eminent domain, tax increment financing and conflict of interest.

But Nolan Schriner, who left the city to open his land planning firm in 1979, applied a little heat himself.

"This is obnoxious," Schriner said about the City Council's interview process.

Schriner was one of three mayoral appointees to the nine-member URA board scheduled for approval by City Council at its March 25 meeting. But the City Council delayed a vote on the nominees because at least three council members wanted to interview them. The URA board will be directly involved in the proposed City for Champions tourism projects, which has drawn community and council critics.

Schriner took the opportunity Monday during his interview to scold the council members.

"I've attended 500 meetings over the years, and that was the most negative environment I've been in," Schriner said about the March 25 meeting. "Obviously, there is a conflict with the mayor - you ought to rise above it."

The delay in the appointees' approval was a move that upset Mayor Steve Bach, who has been at odds with some council members over the proposed City for Champions project.

At the March 25 meeting, Bach told the council that the board appointees did not require a confirmation hearing like when he appoints executive staff members. Rather, it was more of a ceremonial approval.

But three council members - council president Keith King, Don Knight and Joel Miller - said it is their responsibility to interview potential board members, especially a board created by the City Council.

The city's Urban Renewal Authority was set up in 1970 to work on restoration and development in areas of town considered blight. The URA board oversees public/private partnerships that use tax increment financing. A TIF uses a portion of the additional sales tax or all of the new property tax generated by a development. That money is used to pay off bonds or reimburse the developer or developers of the projects.

Some of the URA projects include Ivywild, North Nevada Avenue, Copper Ridge and City Gate.

Two of the four City for Champions projects - a downtown sports and events center and an Olympic museum - would be built in the southwest urban renewal area.

"It's an important board," Miller said. "It is reasonable to sit down and have a conversation."

Typically, the mayor appoints members to the URA board and the City Council approves the nominees in a public meeting as a way to express gratitude to those who volunteer, said Mike Sullivan, the city's human resources director.

This was the first time the City Council held a public meeting to interview nominees, Sullivan said. He fears that the City Council's interview process will put a chill on the recruitment of future volunteers. He is concerned that the three council members turned the interview into a specific discussion about City for Champions.

"It's an unnecessary step," Sullivan said. "The candidates have been fully vetted."

Knight made no apologies and said the three council members were not overstepping their role.

"We are not doing business as usual," Knight said. "This council has proven that."

The other two nominees to the URA board are Valerie Hunter, who owned the software development company Hunter Group USA, and Peter Scoville, co-founder of Colorado Springs Commercial.

Hunter said she built a successful business asking questions and never accepting financial or economic reports on face value.

"I don't bully easy," she said during her interview.

Scoville, who brokered one of the largest office sales transactions in the city, said he would err on the side of being conservative when it comes to conflict of interest. He would recuse himself from discussion or votes where there was perceived conflict, he said.

For most of the questions, the three candidates said they would need more information before they took a stance on use of eminent domain or what type of bonding would be best to finance development.

Schriner was the owner and president of N.E.S. Inc., a land planning firm, until 2009. The firm was involved in the planning of many large developments including Briargate, Mountain Shadows, Flying Horse, Kissing Camels and University Park.

He sold his company, he said. But if he believed he had a conflict of interest in URA projects, he would recuse himself.

Schriner said it seemed the council members wanted him to answer questions in a specific way before they approved his appointment.

"Is that what is going on?" he asked them Monday.

"I'm a person who would look at all the details and not vote one way because I'm influenced by you or the mayor."

The council is expected to vote on the mayor's nominees at the April 8 City Council meeting, which begins at 1 p.m. in City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave.

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