ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – A CBS4 investigation has found the son of a powerful government official in Arapahoe County has received $563,314.77 in “no-bid” contracts since 2009 in what one government watchdog calls “nepotism.”
Norman Sheldon is the president of the Parker-Jordan Metropolitan District, an entity that collects property taxes from 6,340 residents in southern Arapahoe County. The PJMD was created in 1985 with the intent of providing streets, parks and recreation facilities along with storm, flood and drainage facilities for residents spread across 1,080 acres.
Administrators say Norman Sheldon has been on the PJMD board ever since. He is currently president.
When the district was looking at potential land acquisition in 2009, it hired Sheldon’s son Dan, at a rate of $120 per hour to perform due diligence. A district administrator said Dan Sheldon “was brought to the district’s attention by the board president, Norman Sheldon.”
Eventually, the board decided it needed a construction manager for pending projects, and again, it chose Dan Sheldon without any competitive bid process. No one else was considered for the position, which has been extremely lucrative, paying Dan Sheldon 5 percent of all construction costs.
Once again, an administrator for the district says Dan Sheldon “was brought to the district’s attention by the board president, Norman Sheldon.”
In the ensuing four years, the Parker Jordan Metropolitan District has paid Dan Sheldon $563,314.77 in fees and commissions. The contracts were signed by his father, Norman Sheldon, who refused to discuss the issue with CBS4. Dan Sheldon also refused to discuss his employment by his father’s district.
In an email to CBS4, the district manager, Bob Blodgett, wrote, “As a professional service, construction management is not required to go out for bid.”
Blodgett said Dan Sheldon was hired in 2009 “because of (his) company’s expertise in commercial real estate due diligence.” Blodgett said Norman Sheldon abstained from the vote that awarded his son hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and commissions.
Luis Toro, from the watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch, said what CBS4 found was “very obviously an ethical lapse and I think most people would call it nepotism. There’s a public trust here and the public trust is being put below helping out a member of the family.”
Toro’s group advocates for transparency, accountability and honesty in government.
“Really, there needs to be an opportunity for other people in the community with similar businesses to compete,” Toro said. “This is a good government contract and other businesses might have wanted it but it went to a family member and that doesn’t pass the smell test.”
CBS4 found Daniel Sheldon was not the only Sheldon family member who had been paid by the district. According to minutes of previous board meetings, Norm Sheldon was unhappy with work done on some kiosks for the district which contained spelling and grammatical errors. So he had his wife, Brenda Sheldon, redo the project for the district.
Blodgett said Brenda Sheldon was selected “because she had book editing experience. Norman Sheldon was paid on her behalf for her fee of $10 per page to review and finalize 19 pages of kiosk verbiage, for a total cost of $190.”
Another Sheldon family member, Michael Sheldon, Norman Sheldon’s cousin, has also received district work.
“Sheldon and Associates was selected for a one-time project due to their expertise and experience working with the City of Aurora. He was brought to the District’s attention by the board president, Norman Sheldon, and the board approved the work for an amount not to exceed $1,000.”
Michael Sheldon told CBS4, “Norm called me. He said we need help with your relations with local governments.”
Michael Sheldon said he assisted the PJMD with setting up meetings with key government officials regarding PJMD projects.
While Norman Sheldon and his son declined to comment on the CBS4 findings, at least one board member appears to see a problem. At a special board meeting March 4, board member Michael Cornelsen indicated a desire for all future contracts to be open for bidding.
“On a going forward basis, we can increase competition for all of our contractors,” said Cornelsen, who noted he was new to the board and was not involved in awarding contracts to Norm Sheldon’s son. “To my mind it would be logical to compete all work of any size.”
Board member William Lamberton said he had no problem with awarding no-bid contracts to the board president’s son. Lamberton said the district hires other companies, consultants and individuals without a bid process and they can be terminated at any time.
Lamberton’s support of Norman Sheldon and his son is in line with his association with Sheldon. Lamberton was listed as the registered agent in 2012 for the “Committee to Re-Elect Norman Sheldon Director To Parker Jordan Metropolitan District” and also donated $100 to Sheldon’s reelection campaign.
Dan Sheldon was also listed as a contributor to his father’s campaign, donating $500.
Taxpayers in the Parker Jordan Metro District have also routinely been paying to fly Norman Sheldon and other board members back to Colorado to attend monthly board meetings. Norm Sheldon apparently owns a home in Arizona and bills the district for airfare and other travel costs to return to Colorado for regularly scheduled meetings.
While the district confirmed the ongoing practice of flying board members in for meetings, and indicated it has been going on for years, CBS4 was not able to determine how much taxpayers had spent on the practice.
– Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com