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Woodland Park roiled by suspension of Main Street revitalization coordinator

October 8, 2017 Updated: October 9, 2017 at 6:38 pm
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Woodland Park. Gazette file photo.

Whether fueled by small-town politics, personal animus or genuine misfeasance or malfeasance, controversy is roiling main street in Woodland Park.

Indeed, it's the Woodland Park Main Street program that's in turmoil.

Most townspeople say they don't know why a popular, well-known woman might be fired from her position at a local nonprofit.

It's a question that the suspended employee, Woodland Park Main Street Program Coordinator Darlene Jensen, can't even answer - and one that's left local business owners angry at the prospect of losing someone who they say has been a key player in revitalizing the downtown area.

Some fighting for her reinstatement suspect personal politics are at play in the decision by City Manager David Buttery to suspend her, but  Buttery denied that Friday.

"There's nothing to be gained financially, emotionally, organizationally," Buttery said. "I'm not sure how personal agendas would fit into that."

According to a letter provided to The Gazette, Jensen's supervisor, Jane Mannon, recommended that Jensen be terminated for "insubordination, "inappropriate or unbecoming conduct," falsification of city documents and poor job performance. But Jensen, who confirmed she received the letter last month, said she has not been given a clear reason as to why she was placed on administrative leave.

"I think the community deserves to know that, as well as myself  - what's going on and why?" Jensen said.

The disciplinary action came as a surprise even to the organization's board of directors and left some wondering how much influence city government, which pays  the nonprofit's operating costs, has over the Main Street program.

"I feel very strongly about how Darlene has been treated, and I don't think it was appropriate," said Elijah Murphy, a board member and owner of the Historic Ute Inn. "The board had no say, and it's an independent (nonprofit)."

The board voted Tuesday to add a provision to its bylaws stating that the coordinator may only be terminated by a two-thirds board. Members agreed the provision could not retroactively apply to Jensen, but it would take effect in any similar situations going forward.

The city pays Jensen $20 an hour to hold the part-time position, which mostly includes administrative duties, and provides more money to help run the program. In addition to the coordinator's pay, the city contributed about $25,000 this year, Mannon said.

Mannon and Buttery declined to comment on Jensen's suspension. Jensen will have a chance to respond to the accusations at a hearing with city officials.

"It will be an opportunity for me to hear her side of the story," Buttery said.

After the private hearing, the officials will determine if she will be reinstated, fired or disciplined in another way. She may appeal their decision to the city's personnel board, which would make a recommendation to the City Council, which ultimately could decide her fate, Buttery said.

At the board's regular meeting on Tuesday, tension was palpable. Member Bob Carlsen referred to Jensen's suspension as "the elephant in the room."

Mannon, who began working for the city last year as special projects director, distributed a memo addressing a rumor that she was hired as a favor in return for her previous employer's hefty donation to the long-awaited Woodland Aquatic Center.

"Please stop embarrassing yourselves by spreading this vile lie," she wrote in the memo.

Board Chairwoman Vera Egbert rebuked some board members for gossiping about Main Street issues and speculating about "people's personal agendas."

"If you really, really want this community to go forward, stop it," she said. "I don't want to hear any more negative. I want to hear positive."

Jensen was instrumental in helping the city become one of eight finalists in 2017 for Deluxe Corp.'s Small Business Revolution on Main Street program, said local businessman Tanner Coy. The city did not win, but at stake was $500,000 to spur economic development.

"She's diplomatic and open-minded and good with helping the board function the way that they should," said Coy, owner of Tweeds Fine Furnishings, who's also on the board for the city's Downtown Development Authority. "Without a person like that helping to keep everybody open-eyed and level-headed, you don't get the result that we've been able to get for Main Street."

Coy was one of several area business owners to present a petition at a Sept. 21 City Council meeting with about 60 signatures, asking the city to reinstate Jensen to the position she's held since 2015.

"Darlene was doing the majority of her work above and beyond any salary she was getting," said Councilman Val Carr, a liaison for the Main Street board. "She's really super professional in the way she executed her job. Whatever happened on the other side is nothing I've actually seen working with her."

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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