Colorado’s metro district industry is pressing key state legislators — the speaker of the House of Representatives among them — and spending thousands of dollars to halt a bill that reformers say would make meaningful change to an opaque industry while supporting their own more modest effort to at least add greater transparency.
The competing bills — one backed by developers and introduced to the state Senate last week, the other backed by homeowners and awaiting introduction — appear headed for one of the legislative session’s most-heated showdowns.
In a tersely worded letter Monday to House Speaker Alec Garnett, a group of homeowners, attorneys, and businessmen intent on reform took dead aim at the industry’s efforts to stall their work at what they call substantive change.
“We urge you to recognize the ruse the MDEC (Metro District Education Coalition) is attempting to have you believe,” according to the letter from the Coloradans for Metro District Reform. “The MDEC is fearful of the transparency that Rep. Mike Weissman’s bill would place upon developer industry abuses — abuses that have been occurring for many years — and the residents’ ability for recourse.”
The letter is in response to one the MDEC sent Garnett last week that asks the Denver democrat to stop any bill Weissman, D-Aurora, would offer regarding metro district reform. The one-page letter included four pages of corporate logos — homebuilders, developers, bankers, attorneys, investment houses among them — that are part of the coalition.
The reason, MDEC says, is because Weissman’s efforts did not include “any of the broad stakeholder groups impacted by the legislation” and should not be allowed to be introduced.
“As a result, we respectfully request that you do not allow this draft legislation to be introduced in the House without a proper stakeholder engagement process,” the MDEC letter says.
Weissman has been working on a bill that addresses a number of issues homeowners and homebuyers have confronted in the metro districts in which they reside or contracted to purchase. It has not been introduced
Weissman has not commented on the letters or the efforts to derail his legislation.
The MDEC-backed bill, Senate Bill 21-262, was drafted with the assistance of the Special District Association of Colorado, a group that broadly represents special districts that include metro districts. It includes a provision requiring disclosure of property tax costs of newly constructed homes to prospective buyers based on the value of the sale, not the undeveloped land.
It has bipartisan sponsorship from both houses of the legislature.
Any bill from Weissman, the MDEC says, was without their input.
“We have actively attempted to work with Rep. Weissman for the past 7 months to draft legislation that addresses concerns surrounding transparency and governance,” the MDEC letter says. “We believed it was important to face these matters head-on and worked collaboratively across broad stakeholder groups to develop strong, consensus language to address concerns raised by some residents.”
The CMDR, however, says they’re unaware of any input from residents for SB21-262 and say metro district residents are not represented.
“In stark contrast, we are not aware of any metro district resident group being given any opportunity to provide any input into Senate Bill 262,” the CMDR letter says. “Frankly, it looks like only those from the metro district industry itself — developers, lawyers, bond firms, accountants, engineers and district management companies — were ‘at the table.’”
The group has identified several portions of SB 21-262, taking up 10 pages, it says should be revised or deleted. The bill is assigned to the senate’s local government committee.
With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in an industry that largely relies on metro districts for any new home construction in Colorado, the stakes are high.
The MDEC, along with its affiliate Metro District Education Alliance, are trade names created by nonprofit Metro District Facts in January 2020 just after The Denver Post published a comprehensive investigation into the inner workings of the state’s more than 2,000 metro districts.
The groups’ purpose, according to a website, is “to educate Coloradans on how metropolitan districts work, the impact that they have on our communities, and to promote additional transparency and accountability in the marketplace.”
The groups were formed by Katie Kennedy at Strategic Alliance, a political operative with extensive campaign experience in Colorado who also works closely with the Home Builders Association, records show. The industry has a long history of campaign contributions, sometimes to ensure its own panel of candidates is elected to metro district boards of directors, The Post found.
Since December 2020, MDEC has spent $10,000 a month on lobbyist firm The Capstone Group in Denver, state disclosure records show. CMDR has not hired any registered lobbyists, records show.
CMDR told Garnett it wants both bills to battle it out in the legislature.
“We encourage you to move forward with debating Rep. Weissman’s bill. We feel it opens up transparency and gives harmed residents some recourse to do something about the abuses they encounter,” CMDR wrote Garrett. “The senate bill does not give harmed residents any recourse and will merely allow the abuse to continue.”
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