How a scuffle over grant funding for a highway project led to the termination of Dacono’s city manager.
Homes aren’t the only thing that growing cities need. They also need well-maintained roads to help move people and resources in and out of town.
One road that is key to Dacono’s growth is Highway 52, a 111-mile long road that connects Boulder, Weld, and Morgan Counties. The road is a two-lane highway that averages between 8,600 daily trips near Fort Lupton to more than 20,000 trips at the I-25 interchange, according to data from the Colorado Department of Transportation. The highway is also often used by truckers carrying oil and gas or farm products.
Highway 52 is not only key to Dacono’s growth, but it also played a role in Euckert’s eventual dismissal. Public records reviewed by Yellow Scene Magazine reveal a coordinated effort by council members Kathryn Wittman, Jim Turini, Jackie Thomas, and Danny Long—the four city councilors who voted to remove former City Manager A.J. Euckert in February 2023—to usurp control of city council to move ahead with upgrades to Highway 52 without the council’s full consent. This plan included getting rid of city attorney Kathleen Kelly and Dacono Community Development Director Jennifer Krieger as well. The four council members also appear to have gotten a helping hand from Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine, who was spearheading efforts to secure a grant for the Highway 52 project.
Upgrading Highway 52 has been a work in progress since at least 2018 when local agencies from Dacono, Frederick, Erie, Hudson, Fort Lupton, Keenesberg, along with Boulder and Weld County representatives formed the Highway 52 Coalition to plan updates to the approximately 42 mile long corridor that they share. Initially, Dacono seemed to be on board with the project and Euckert said that the city had about $150,000 to spend on improvements, the Fort Lupton Press reported.
Euckert sponsored a resolution in March 2019 to support the Highway 52 Coalition’s work. Around the same time, a resident-led coalition called the Pride of the Glens, which represents the Glens of Dacono neighborhood, began pushing for improvements to the crosswalks along Highway 52, according to the Longmont Times Call. But former Dacono Mayor Joe Baker told the Times Call that budgetary constraints were keeping the city from moving forward with the project. Dacono Mayor Pro Tem Kathryn Wittman is a member of the Pride of the Glens and is pictured on the group’s website. Turini and Long also live in the neighborhood, according to Weld County property records.
This tension between the Pride of the Glens and Dacono city hall was never resolved and seems to have played a part in Euckert’s eventual termination in February 2023. Wittman was the council member who called the surprise motion to terminate Euckert, which was seconded by Turini. Wittman also has ties to Saine, who’s No Access On Andrews coalition seems to have been working to remove Euckert. Wittman and Saine attend church together at New Horizons Christian Church.
Saine also had her own issues with Dacono’s city leadership. Saine sent an email to Morehead and the rest of city council on November 1 and alleged that they were not being transparent about the project, a claim that Saine had also made during city council meetings. The email alleged that links to Dacono’s comprehensive plan were broken on the city’s website, that recordings of city council and planning commission meetings had not yet been published, and that the city’s code was not available for residents to read, according to documents obtained by YS.
Morehead replied on November 3 saying that Saine’s allegations were untrue and that “continuing to talk down to me and City Council is disappointing and unprofessional,” according to an email. Morehead added that it was clear Saine had “called Council members and it is my hope they know that most of what you are telling them is not true.”
“Until you decide to treat me with the respect that comes with my position in our community and meet with me in person at an appropriate time, like a professional, I will not continue in an electronic back and forth,” Morehead wrote. “I expect far more professional behavior with me, Council and Dacono staff from a Weld County Commissioner.”
Wittman seemingly stood up for Saine when she responded to Morehead on November 4, telling him that city council has a duty to “take the time to investigate” claims made by a citizen “no matter what other professional status they may hold” to see what options are available to “rectify any problems incurred,” according to an email.
“We’re all working for the best of our entire constituent base, and that is of [utmost] importance,” Wittman wrote.
During her interview with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Krieger said that issues with Wittman, Turini, Thomas, and Long began to accelerate in November 2022. The passage of the Red Lands development seemed to have “riled up” the council members and they began to act in an “anti-staff” manner, Krieger said. For example, there were previous complaints about Wittman inserting herself into a handful of code enforcement issues in Dacono, which Krieger said is against city policy because city council members are expected to act together to represent the city and not individually. Turini had also emailed the grocery store Aldi about moving to Dacono from his city email address without the consent of council.
“I mean, there are rules adopted by the town, or the City of Dacono and those were put into place, and then you have city council members who are elected and they’re like, I’m not gonna follow those. What happens?” Krieger said, according to the transcript of the interview.
Saine’s efforts to secure a grant for the project from the Denver Regional Council of Governments also accelerated in November 2022. Emails show Saine was coordinating meetings with various transportation agencies like the North Area Transportation Alliance, CDOT, and DRCOG to secure funding for the Highway 52 project. Erie’s Principal Transportation Planner Carlos Hernandez and Town Manager Malcom Flemming were also included in these meetings.
Saine also seemingly tried to drum-up support for the project in the media. In one email Saine sent to Hernandez on January 9, 2023, Saine shared an interview she gave to the digital news outlet Colorado Politics where she extolled the virtues of Erie’s “soft-density” and how it is conducive to multi-modal transportation projects. Saine said in the email that she hoped the story would “reap some attention and benefits” for Erie.
As more information about the Highway 52 project came out, it seems like Dacono’s support for the project began to wane. CDOT’s Planning and Environmental Linkages study for the project found that traffic volumes near Dacono could increase by between 45% and 85% by 2045 because of planned mixed-use and commercial developments along the Highway 52 and I-25 interchange in nearby Erie and Frederick. It also found several parts of the road that need to be addressed like the bottleneck at the I-25 interchange and the fatal crash patterns noted at the Highway 52 intersections of Colorado Boulevard, Cherry Street, Forest Avenue in Dacono.
However, Dacono officials also noted several concerns about the project in interviews with investigators For instance, Krieger told investigators that Dacono specifically disagreed with the Country Road 10 interchange upgrades because it “was not in the best interest of the city long-term.”
The turning point of these deliberations occurred between January 23 and January 27 when Dacono city staff tried to relay their position on the Highway 52 project while council members Wittman, Tuirini, Long, and Thomas worked to push the application through on their own accord.
Dacono city staff discussed the Highway 52 project and their involvement during a January 23 work session, according to Kelly’s memo. Work sessions are meetings where city council members can discuss issues but cannot take formal action, like voting, on agenda items. Around 8:30 p.m. that night, shortly after the work session ended, Euckert sent an email to Hernandez saying that Dacono would support the Highway 52 study, but could not support the CR-10 and I-25 segments of the project and asked for the grant funding application to be revised to reflect the city’s position, according to emails obtained by YS. The email also asked for some other technical changes that would have impacted how much money Dacono needed to spend for the project.
Over the next two days, Hernandez and Euckert worked to finalize the grant application, which was due by January 27. On January 25, Hernandez told Euckert in an email that Turini stopped by the Erie city hall offices to “check in on the letter of support” for the project and left his business card. Euckert asked why Dacono was listed as a supporting agency for the project, and Hernandez replied that Dacono Senior Planner Mark Doering and Public Works Director Bobby Redd attended a December 8, 2022 meeting of the Southwest Weld County Subregional Transportation Forum with DRCOG where Doering allegedly told Hernandez that Dacono was going to support the grant application, including the CR-10 project, according to an email. Hernandez added that he shared details of the project at the meeting and that “there were no objections to move forward.”
Krieger told Euckert in an email that it was “a big leap” for Erie to construe Doering and Redd’s silence as an approval for the application because Doering was at the meeting “to listen.” YS reached out to Hernandez about the application and how he concluded that Dacono was fully supportive of the action, but did not receive a reply before press time.
However, it seems like Wittman, Turini, Long, and Thomas had different plans in mind. Just after midnight on January 26, Wittman emailed a letter to Euckert from her personal email address demanding that he support both projects. The letter was signed electronically by Wittman, Turini, Long, and Thomas. A copy of the letter was also sent to Hernandez, Flemming and Dacono city clerk Valerie Taylor, emails show. Hernandez told Wittman that they could include that letter of support in the final application without requiring Dacono to sign on as a financial supporter.
Later that day, Hernandez and Saine corresponded via email about the status of the application. “As an observer, I am struggling to understand why there is confusion about that direction,” Saine wrote. Hernandez responded by saying “I’m also not sure. I can only submit the forms at AJ’s direction. I’ll let you know if AJ responds.”
Around 8:30 p.m. on January 26, Euckert emailed Hernandez to clarify Dacono’s position on the project. “The City Council has made no commitments regarding funding. The City Council does not support the I-25 corridor application. Please revise the support forms for both applications accordingly,” the email reads in part. Hernandez promptly revised the application the next morning and emailed a copy of the new grant application to Euckert and Morehead around 7:45 a.m.
Dead End Road
The grant application fiasco seems to have been the final nail in Euckert’s coffin as he was abruptly fired a little more than two weeks later.
At the infamous February 13 city council meeting, Euckert told city council that DRCOG decided not to fund the project and that it was effectively dead. Kelly added that DRCOG wanted to delay the Highway 52 project until a later year. Wittman then moved to table a resolution supporting the project indefinitely which was approved by a unanimous vote.
Within an hour, Wittman would move to terminate Euckert from his post and the motion passed by a 4-2 margin. Over the next several months, council members Wittman, Turini, Thomas, and Long coordinated a story about how Euckert had prevented Dacono from growing and attracting new businesses.
Wittman, Thomas, Long, and Turini each published Letters to the Editor in the Consumer Report for Carbon Valley in which they tried to explain their votes to remove Euckert. In the Report’s April edition, Turini said he had heard from businesses and residents that they wanted “a change in direction from what we had in the last 10 years.” Thomas laid out a legal argument about the city council’s authority to remove the city manager and said that she “was ready to move forward” and bring new businesses and residents to Dacono. Wittman added in her letter that “there are constant discrepancies in the answers I was getting [from city staff] and best practices across the board are not utilized.” Wittman also added that she had been “slyly threatened with a lawsuit for violating open meetings laws for voicing concerns over how the administration was handling constituent affairs and business issues.” In the May edition, Long wrote that he voted to terminate Euckert because he “ignored citizens.”
The four council members also seem to have coordinated their defense efforts after residents successfully filed recall petitions to remove Thomas and Turini from office. Videos shared with YS show the four council members walking around Dacono’s Sweetgrass neighborhood together gathering signatures to oppose the recall election. Taylor, Dacono’s city clerk, confirmed to YS at the time that the city had not approved an official ballot of that nature.
Morehead, who lives in the neighborhood, told investigators that it seemed like the four council members seemingly met at Thomas’ house in Sweetgrass before the canvassing event because he saw multiple cars parked outside of her home that day. YS reached out to Thomas to confirm whether such a meeting took place, but did not hear back before press time.
The defensive efforts of the four council members were unsuccessful, however, as Thomas and Turini were both recalled on June 27. New council members Michelle Rogers and Tony Cummings will be sworn in during a meeting on July 10. Even though there will be two new faces on council, there is still a looming power that the new body will have to contend with.
This is Part 2 in a series of 4 articles. Check back for further updates to the series.