We know the story by now.
A mild-mannered, quiet city manager with an excellent track record comes to Colorado Springs, works for two-plus years, gets a decent review, announces on March 19 that she's leaving, bolts during an April 13 meeting and has her attorney send a letter to the city claiming she was forced out and demanding severance pay. Her bosses (City Council), along with citizens and local media, denounce her as a morally challenged gold digger out to rob a city that's already down on its luck.
But is this history of Penelope Culbreth-Graft really accurate, or are chunks of the story left out?
"There are a lot of missing pieces," Culbreth-Graft says, her voice rich with uncharacteristic gusto.
She's standing on the porch of her Broadmoor-area home, gray hair catching the warm summer breeze. This weekday house call is a surprise, and Culbreth-Graft isn't in the mood to spill her guts this morning. Actually, she says, she really should be getting back to her husband, who's been ill.
However, Culbreth-Graft says what happened behind closed doors at City Hall won't remain a mystery forever.
"One day I will be writing a book," she says. "Actually, I'm starting it right now."
Many locals will surely want to read it. She started here Jan. 7, 2008, a few months before the city had sealed its first economic development deal with the U.S. Olympic Committee. She was there when that deal fell apart. And when it was renegotiated. She was also there when Mayor Lionel Rivera was investigated for alleged ethics violations tied to the deal. The mayor was cleared, though some called the investigation sloppy.
Then, the city's finances. Culbreth-Graft oversaw massive budget cuts and layoffs of city workers — the result of lagging tax collections. She was known to say that it saddened her to come to a city only to dismantle it.
It was certainly an turbulent term before Culbreth-Graft walked out on April 13. And there was head-butting. But Councilor Scott Hente says he thinks that's all it was. He's not aware of any cover-ups that Culbreth-Graft's book might reveal.
"Are there some buried secrets? Is there some big sex scandal?" Hente asks. "No."
Culbreth-Graft apparently was never paid "severance" from the city, and has yet to file a lawsuit.
Besides the book, Culbreth-Graft has a business registered with the state, and she's teaching courses at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, as she has since fall 2009. She is now instructing a graduate-level online course, "Public Administration 5002, Organizational Management and Change." The course, according to UCCS spokesperson Tom Hutton, covers "topics such as organization theory and design, managing human capital, group development and performance, inter- and intra-group communication, information management, and ethical decision making."
Culbreth-Graft is paid just $3,500 to teach the course — meaning she likely does it more for personal satisfaction than fiscal need. She is scheduled to teach two more UCCS courses this fall, one online and one in-person in Pueblo.
All of the above suggests that Culbreth-Graft may stick around the Springs for a while — which may come as a surprise to many who expected her to head back to California. Her house, after all, had been listed for sale (it's since been removed), and few have heard anything from her since she walked out of City Hall for the last time. But, for now, Culbreth-Graft isn't saying whether she'll stay or go.
"I'm a private person," she says when asked if she'll leave. "I've always been a private person."