Are the good times over for Wayne Cauthen's rich pals from Denver?

The Mile-High Club 

Are the good times over for Wayne Cauthen's rich pals from Denver?

Some people in Denver really didn't want Mark Funkhouser to become the next mayor of Kansas City.

Alvin Brooks, Funkhouser's rival, banked more than $22,000 in contributions from engineers, lawyers and financiers based in and around Denver. Brooks' donors included MWH, a Colorado consulting firm that we've paid handsomely over the past few years to run Kansas City, Missouri's Capital Improvements Management Office.

The Capital Improvements Management Office, or CIMO, is the invention of City Manager Wayne Cauthen. Cauthen's résumé helps explain why Denver suits were interested in a mayor's race 600 miles to the east of them: He worked in the Mile-High City before he came to Kansas City in 2003.

In fact, Cauthen and MWH project executive Mike Musgrave were on Denver's city payroll at the same time. Cauthen was a compliance director before he became chief of staff for Denver's mayor. Musgrave served as the city's public works director.

As public works director, Musgrave was in charge of the construction of Denver International Airport — a fiasco of jokes-on-The Tonight Show proportions. The airport opened 16 months late and $2 billion over budget.

In spite of the Rorschach-sized blot on his credentials, Kansas City officials decided that Musgrave was just the guy to bring speed and order to construction projects here.

The city launched CIMO in 2004. It was designed to accelerate the completion of backlogged projects. At one point, the city had $400 million sitting in the bank, waiting to be spent on sewer upgrades and new fire stations.

Cauthen decided that the city's to-do list needed a sprinkling of private-sector fairy dust. Consultants from MWH and, to a lesser extent, Burns & McDonnell staffed the nascent office alongside city employees. A press release announcing the creation of CIMO said the new team had "worked through the holidays to ensure a fast start," a dig at all the leisure time that public employees are reputed to enjoy.

Three years later, CIMO takes credit for banging out 199 projects worth $159 million. CIMO says it cut in half the time it takes to complete the average project.

Progress didn't come cheap, however. The city awarded MWH more than $17 million from 2003 to 2006.

City employees would occasionally grumble to me about the consultants. Give us millions of dollars to hire engineers, and we could have kicked dust, too, they told me. A remodeling of CIMO offices also didn't go over well. The 18th floor of City Hall got a $1.2 million makeover in 2005; a city worker told me that she made a special trip just to check out the women's restroom. "I was impressed," she said.

Musgrave did give off the stink of a bureaucrat gone bad. Our sister paper in Denver, Westword, described an instance when he tried to subpoena a TV station . In 1995, he played a round of golf at Pebble Beach with an airport contractor. Three months later, Musgrave left the city to work for the contractor, an engineering firm that did $5.8 million in airport business.

Musgrave looked like a weasel, all right. But as CIMO got going, it was hard not to notice all the green-and-blue "Kansas City Works" signs around town. Bridges were being fixed. New traffic signals appeared. A downtown arena and entertainment district began to rise from the dirt.

I put away my Musgrave file amid the din of construction. Maybe he'd learned from his mistakes. Results had saved the weasel from a public recounting of his past life in Denver.

But recent events led me to dig up the file.

MWH was supposed to oversee CIMO for three years before City Hall staffers took control. A city employee, Ralph Davis, now runs the department. Yet the consultants linger. Last December, the city agreed to pay MWH $905,776 to monitor the progress of the entertainment district.

So a three-year agreement had become four. Sort of weaselly, no?

MWH has kept its hand in city affairs in another way. The company, records show, made a $3,000 donation to Al Brooks' campaign in January.

Brooks talked during the campaign about "change," but his candidacy came to stand for the status quo. Brooks called Kay Barnes a great mayor and indicated his support for Cauthen. (Funkhouser refused to commit to the city manager.) MWH's $3,000 donation to Brooks was clearly an expression of hope that Cauthen would remain in place until his contract expired in 2008, if not beyond.

MWH, it turns out, was not the only Denver-area business to express such a sentiment. The Brooks campaign received two $3,000 checks from the engineering and construction company CH2M Hill of Englewood, Colorado. The Brooks campaign recorded an additional $9,000 in donations from Denver sources on March 2, the same day that Musgrave personally gave $1,000.

The contributions hint at the extent to which Denver businesses have infiltrated City Hall. Denver consultants Marge Price and David Howlett (who each gave $500 to Brooks) have performed work for the city manager's office, the parks department and the water department, according to a CIMO spokesman.

The Colorado addresses in Brooks' campaign records illuminate other relationships that hadn't been publicly apparent. Jim Rivas, owner of Denver-based Mac-Bestos, an environmental cleanup company, gave Brooks $2,000. Because Mac-Bestos has worked only as a subcontractor on city projects, the CIMO office has no record of payments to the company.

Alas, Rivas and other business owners on Mountain Time supported a losing cause.

The Denver people were probably right to dread the idea of a stickler like Funkhouser becoming mayor. Musgrave's past suggests that he wouldn't be comfortable working for the new mayor, a nerd for transparency and process. In Denver, a city attorney said that Musgrave chewed him out for canceling a contract with the airport engineering company, O'Brien-Kreitzberg, that later hired Musgrave. The city attorney called the episode "highly irregular."

Also, Funkhouser wants to name Ed Wolf as chief of staff. Wolf is a former director of Public Works, a department that was decimated by the creation of CIMO. It's hard to imagine Wolf telling Cauthen "Love what you did with the place" after next Tuesday's inauguration. (Note: As city auditor, Funkhouser looked at CIMO in 2005 and concluded that Cauthen's decision to hire consultants was "reasonable.")

I was unable to speak to the architects of CIMO. Musgrave didn't return my calls. I put in a request to talk to Cauthen, but a city spokeswoman said he was out of town.

If Cauthen was out looking for another job, I don't blame him.

I hear Denver's nice.

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