Mayor Ryan Hess brushes off evicted tenant’s call to resign before building official explains inspection process
As a former police officer, Craig Mayor Ryan Hess has likely dealt with people who were less than happy with his work before.
In front of City Council on Tuesday, March 27, resident Ethan Lieberman laid into the mayor as Lieberman claimed that Hess — now employed as a private attorney — represented Lieberman’s former landlord in Lieberman’s eviction proceedings.
During public comments, Lieberman said he lived at the apartment from May until he was evicted earlier this month. He said they were good tenants, never missed rent and were quiet and clean, and he alleged there were longstanding issues at the apartment, including a sewage backup in the bathtub and dishwasher.
Lieberman said that when management finally addressed the problem, the range and dishwasher in his unit were broken. He also said his apartment was covered in cement dust and filth from the plumbing repairs, and he had to clean it up himself because the property manager wouldn’t send anyone out to tidy up the mess.
Lieberman added that he filed a police report after, according to him, his lease was falsified and his initials were forged. He also said he reached out to the city building inspector and was told nothing could be done unless more tenants reported issues.
Lieberman then reached out on Facebook in January to see if other tenants in any apartments owned by the same company were experiencing similar maintenance problems, and he told City Council on Tuesday that many people responded to his post but were afraid to speak up out of fear of retaliation.
“And you, Mayor Hess, only reaffirm that fear for them,” Lieberman said. “As the sitting mayor of the city of Craig, you represented this Denver-based company in court, and you fought alongside them against your own constituents to get me evicted.”
Lieberman told Hess he should resign his position as mayor. Hess didn’t respond to Lieberman’s comments, but a woman in the audience who frequently attends City Council meetings did.
“First of all, no you shouldn’t resign,” the woman told Hess. “You’re an awesome mayor. This is the first council in a long time that I don’t feel like I have to babysit all the time.”
After she spoke in support of the mayor, two other women who were seated next to Lieberman addressed the room.
“I’m seconding what Ethan said, or at least I would like to hear some kind of comment because that is a definite conflict of interest,” one of the two women said. “It’s corrupt. (Lieberman) went to the city inspector; he did nothing. Who does he answer to?”
This time the mayor replied, saying the city building inspector does not work for City Council but rather works at the direction of the city manager, who is responsible for the city’s personnel decisions.
“The city manager does all the administrative actions; I have no personnel control,” Hess said.
“So you have no problem throwing your own constituents onto the streets?” the woman quipped back.
“I don’t think this is the right venue to discuss what I do in my legal practice because I cannot speak to what I do for clients because it’s a conflict,” Hess said. “I would warn people you are not immune from defamation suits so warn what you say at the mic.”
After that, the woman pressed Hess if he had represented the company, and he repeated that he couldn’t say whom he represents as an attorney, and he added that he was not at the City Council meeting to discuss what he does for clients.
“I second what Ethan said,” the other woman stated during her brief remarks. “While it might not be illegal what you did, it is immoral and unethical.”
At the end of the meeting — long after Lieberman and the two women had left — the woman who spoke in support of Mayor Hess addressed City Council and the mayor one more time.
“I just want to say again, I think you are doing a great job,” she said. “You just let that roll right off you. I thought that was very commendable. I was about ready to jump up, ‘Let’s go!’”
“Luckily, in my prior job, I used to get shot at, so until someone can top that, I’m good,” Hess told her. “I’ve been stabbed at, shot at, spit at — so I don’t think much can hurt me anymore.”
Soon after, Craig Building Official Marlin Eckhoff explained for City Council how he’s been handling complaints about substandard living arrangements at apartments in Craig, including Lieberman’s.
Eckhoff told council Lieberman called him saying that a number of people Lieberman knew in the apartments were having issues, and Eckhoff said he told Lieberman to have as many of them contact him as Lieberman could. Eckhoff said one tenant called him.
Eckhoff said there were some actionable complaints that were brought to his attention in this case, but the tenant also feared eviction because Eckhoff can’t really take complaints to property managers about specific units and have everything remain anonymous.
Eckhoff explained that for him to address any issues in an apartment, he has to be able to get inside that apartment to investigate. However, if a tenant refuses him entry or ceases communication after learning management will be notified which unit is in question, Eckhoff said there’s not a whole lot that he can do at that point.
“If it’s something that doesn’t seem like it’s an absolute ‘Oh my gosh, this could start a fire, you could die tonight type of thing,’ I somewhat leave it up to (the tenants) because I can’t go force my way in,” Eckhoff said. “If we get to their door and they decide, ‘No, we don’t want to let you in,’ I can’t do that without an administrative warrant. So that’s kind of where that one came from on those apartments.”
Eckhoff and council members noted that it’s illegal to retaliate against tenants who complain about their living conditions, but Eckhoff said he knows that some tenants go without reporting major issues out of fear they will be evicted, as he believes some landlords feel their tenants do not have the resources to fight a wrongful eviction.
However, on the other side of the issue, Eckhoff also said that about half of the calls he sees turn out to be tenants who are trying to get out of their leases by nitpicking small, minor problems.
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