The Denver City Council Finance and Governance Committee approved proposals Tuesday to update the city’s Ethics Code and apply rules for the confirmation of mayoral cabinet members.
Both proposals will have to pass a full City Council vote before implementation.
The first proposal applies amendments to the Denver Ethics Code to address recommendations made by Auditor Timothy O’Brien in last year’s audit. One of the audit’s findings was that 66% of city employees would not report ethics violations if they had to submit their name in the report.
“Auditor O’Brien found some pretty troubling information in his report,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn, who sponsored the proposal. “These are changes the board has sought for some time.”
The amendments include allowing the Board of Ethics to accept and investigate anonymous complaints. The Board would not be allowed to disclose the identity of the anonymous complainant unless given permission .
During Tuesday’s meeting, Councilwoman Deborah Ortega called these changes “very needed,” pointing to a case from years ago where a city employee was asking their subordinates to work on a personal property and project of theirs.
“It really is important that when we get anonymous complaints … that we protect that individual,” Ortega said. “Oftentimes, it’s employees within our city agencies that see questionable practices happen that we’re able to identify and address.”
The amendments would also give the Director of Ethics the authority to initiate inquiries and give the Board of Ethics the authority to obtain information on actions taken by agencies following investigations and recommendations.
Smaller changes in the amendments include adding half-siblings to the definition of immediate family, adding gender-neutral language and changing timelines to better fit with the board calendar.
Jane Feldman, a member of the Denver Board of Ethics, applauded the proposal, saying that the Board has been advocating for such changes since 2015. However, she is still pushing for additional changes regarding establishing independent enforcement authority for the Board.
“Although I am very happy with the anonymous complaints and the ability for us to find out what happens, I do think that an independent enforcement authority is still something that we need to work on,” Feldman said.
Flynn agreed with Feldman, keeping the possibility of further changes open.
“Even under these changes, the Board of Ethics cannot fine, suspend or fire an employee,” Flynn said. “With these changes, that may not be necessary, but we’ll see. These may not be the last amendments that we make.”
The second proposal, led by Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, would establish specific rules for the implementation of Ballot Measures 2E and 2F, approved by Denver voters in November.
Measure 2E gave the City Council confirmation authority over mayoral cabinet members including the sheriff, chief of police, chief of fire and city attorney. Measure 2F updated the city charter to allow for remote meetings, which began during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Proposed rules for Measure 2E state that the mayor would choose his candidate and a simple majority vote of the City Council would confirm them. The appointment would go through the automatic consent agenda unless specifically called out by a council member.
The cabinet member positions must be filled in a timely manner and the mayor retains sole dismissal authority.
Public hearings are not permitted for the confirmation of appointees. The City Council would need to unanimously vote to suspend the rules if they wished to have a public hearing.
For Measure 2F, the proposal would allow for remote meetings, establishing that members must conduct videoconferencing meetings using the same professional manner as in-person meetings.
Requirements for remote meetings include members must log on at least three minutes before the meeting; members must be live on camera while speaking, voting and establishing quorum; votes must be recorded live; and members must use the formal digital background provided by central staff.