Denver Direct: Bureaucrats Cover Bag Man’s Costs

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bureaucrats Cover Bag Man’s Costs

by Dave Felice

By paying $30,000, Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) is enabling entrepreneur Bill Airy to recover part of his speculative investment in an ill-fated park advertising scheme.

After his proposal to install hundreds of dog waste bag dispensers with advertising signs in city parks was rejected, Airy claimed he had a contract which the City had breached. Airy, whose veracity came into question during the deal-making, never produced a contract for anyone to see. But prior to widespread community uprising against the scheme, Parks and Recreation staff had promoted his plan to be implemented in “15 parks” during the month of June 2009.

The legal principle of Promissory Estoppal can, in some circumstances, provide relief where no contract exists but a party “acts in reliance upon a promise”. Promissory Estoppal describes the condition where one party makes a promise to another, but there is no enforceable contract. Under this theory, Airy probably had a legitimate claim against the City. Those City employees who made the promise would most likely be identified publicly and have been fired or disciplined.

In spite of significant public opposition and apparently with the intent to hold the City to its word, Airy purchased dispensers and waste bags. He also bought a hybrid car upon which he pasted the Parks and Recreation Department logo. He can still use the Prius but, despite the claim that he was going to take his dispenser advertising scheme to many other cities, Airy is going back to original business of offering to manipulate credit scores for his clients.

In the mean time, having heard the hundreds of loud complaints about Airy’s plan from Denver citizens and neighborhood organizations, DPR put permanent a halt the Poo Free waste bag dispenser proposal. In its place Parks and Recreation seemed to be adopting and implementing an alternative proposal from Denver’s Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation to install simple plastic dispensers that could easily be restocked by citizens.

Most of these dispensers were already in pace and were being restocked by the public with recycled bags at no cost to the City. Then, in late January, there were reports that the City had purchased Poo Free’s inventory of dispensers and bags for $30,000.

DPR Marketing Manager Jill McGranahan, was widely quoted in the media as an enthusiastic supporter of Airy. She told those who inquired that the City couldn’t pass up a bargain on purchasing the waste collection bags. There was a budget of $30,000 for dog waste bags anyway, she said, and getting inventory for less than Airy had paid $35,000 was a boon for the taxpayers. This deal then constituted a purchase, not a legal settlement.

McGranahan says Airy told her he was ready to sell the bag inventory when he abandoned plans to take the advertising dispenser scheme to other cities.

McGranahan doesn’t explain how much of this $30,000 purchase was for bags and how much was for dispensers. There was, in 2007, a $30,000 budget for dog waste bags. Because DPR didn’t provide a cost analysis to the public, isn’t known if expenditures had been cut for the more austere 2010 budget year. However, there are questions about why the City would decide to buy these fancy dispensers of unknown quantity and which require the ongoing purchase of waste collection bags beyond the first year.

Nobody in DPR identifies the source of the money paid to Airy at a time departmental budgets are being cut and employees are being furloughed.

Unless some honest City employee is willing to come forward and tell the full story, it’s possible the public will never know all the facts. While the administration of Mayor John Wright Hickenlooper promises transparency, the concept apparently is based on convenience, and full disclosure is inconvenient in this instance.