This November, voters could decide whether to give the Denver City Council more say when it comes to who serves in the city’s top spots — including the safety director, sheriff, police chief and fire chief.
The proposal — led by Councilwomen Candi CdeBaca, who represents District 9, and Amanda Sawyer, who represents District 5 — would amend the Denver City Charter to chip away at the power of the mayor’s office, which currently holds sole authority in choosing the city’s executive positions. The bill was advanced by the council’s governance committee Tuesday and will be heard by the full council later this month.
“If we have learned anything from the demonstrations that have happened over the murder of George Floyd and the public comment that we’ve heard in this chamber last night and on Thursday, it’s that people of the city of Denver are crying out for more transparency and accountability,” Sawyer said during the Tuesday committee meeting. “Now more than ever, we owe it to our constituents to give them a more representative government.”
In addition to Denver’s top four safety positions, the proposal would also apply to the executive directors of aviation, the city attorney’s office, community planning and development, public health and environment, transportation, excise and license, finance, general services, human services, and parks and recreation.
“The proposed charter change, which seems more about politics than anything else, is a solution in search of a problem,” Mayor Michael Hancock’s spokesman Mike Strott told Colorado Politics in an email last month.
“This proposal will potentially impede the Mayor’s ability to identify and recruit the most qualified individuals to serve in the administration on behalf of the people in our city,” Strott argued. “In the midst of our response to a global pandemic, there are more important issues at hand that need our attention, and we would hope that clearer minds on City Council prevail in terms of moving this proposal forward.”
Strott said one of the main concerns is that council scrutiny could deter prospective applicants from pursuing city leadership positions.
“It may in fact discourage some candidates — that’s quite possible — but that’s not enough of a challenge or concern for me not to support this,” Councilwoman At Large Robin Kniech said during Tuesday's committee meeting.
The role of this charter change, as Kniech sees it, is to act as a “final safeguard against nepotism or not being qualified, and it’s hopefully paving the way for collaboration, which benefits our residents, because a lot of them come to us for problem-solving, and therefore we go to these department heads.”
Sawyer has said the mayor's office's concerns are “reasonable and fair,” but she’s still not sold by them.
“If you can’t get seven members of a 13-member council to support someone who is going to be put in one of the top cabinet positions in the most powerful city in the state of Colorado,” she said, “then they shouldn’t be in that position in the first place.”
Sawyer’s initial proposal only required council approval of cabinet heads, but she and CdeBaca joined forces to include the sheriff and chiefs of fire and police after CdeBaca struggled to gather enough support from other council members to advance her proposal to make Denver’s sheriff an elected position.
“We have a city where we have politicized agencies," CdeBaca said Tuesday. "What we’re trying to do is at least create that balance — a check and a balance — for politicized agencies."
If the Denver City Council refers the measure to the ballot, which Westword reports it's positioned to do, voters will make the final call come November.