The power struggle between Denver City Council and the mayor’s office took on more urgency during a special charter committee meeting Monday, when council members proposed more control over the city’s most powerful mayoral-appointed positions and the Office of the Independent Monitor .
Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer brought forward a proposal to establish council oversight and approval of mayoral-appointed cabinet positions specified in the city charter.
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Council members weighed Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca’s proposal to amend the city charter and allow voters to elect the county’s sheriff.
The proposal is intended to provoke “more thought and more planning” when it comes to choosing cabinet members, Sawyer said Monday, and for city council to have some “buy-in” when it comes to deciding who holds these “really big, powerful, political positions.”
Of focus are 11 cabinet positions, whose salaries are set by ordinance, including the city attorney as well as heads of Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Finance, Safety, Excise and Licenses, General Services, Human Services, Aviation, Community Planning and Development, and the Department of Public Health and Environment.
The action makes good on a promise that Sawyer made in a previous charter committee meeting.
“The people of the City of Denver really feel like there needs to be some more guardrails for our city council around mayoral appointees and around our strong mayor system,” Sawyer said on Oct. 14.
Under Sawyer’s proposal, the appointments would require majority council approval, and a standard resolution would be required within 30 days.
An appointment would move forward unless opposed by a council member, upon which a council interview would be conducted during a meeting of the committee that supervises the agency in question.
After an interview, City Council would vote on the appointment at a regularly scheduled council meeting.
As is the case now, the mayor would retain sole dismissal authority. But the resolution calls for positions to be filled in a “timely manner,” language not currently specified in the city charter.
To justify the new language, Sawyer gave the example of the recent 18-month vacancy in the Community Planning and Development agency, which she said has caused “significant problems” with no one steering its ship.
Councilwoman Kendra Black worried about “unintended consequences” and asked what research had been done, as well as whether any feedback had been gathered from the mayor’s office.
“There’s certainly some concerns on the chilling effect it might have on the process for finding qualified applicants,” said Skye Stuart, legislative director for the mayor’s office, “but [we] don’t have a position at this point and are waiting to hear a little bit more detail.”
Sawyer said a study of Denver’s sister cities — aside from the outlier of San Francisco — seemed to have a “straightforward” process that did not appear to have many drawbacks. Those included Baltimore, Seattle, Tulsa, Okla., and Colorado Springs.
Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca also presented her plan to make Denver’s independent monitor a council-appointed position rather than a position at the will of the mayor.
“The main things that we’re trying to do is complement some of the other ideas that have come forward to balance out the power of the strong mayor,” CdeBaca said.
CdeBaca in the Oct. 14 committee meeting initially said her proposal would push for the independent monitor to be an elected position, as she is attempting to do with the Denver sheriff position, which would require a city charter amendment.
But as the proposal stands now, the position would only require a city ordinance amendment and therefore be more “nimble,” Councilwoman Robin Kniech acknowledged.
“Independent should mean independent,” CdeBaca said in the Oct. 14 committee meeting, “and right now that’s not the case.”
Paradoxically, the move would require the approval of the mayor, who also has the power to veto the bill.
The two proposals will move forward as a package to the Council’s government committee prior to being brought to the floor of the full City Council.