Denver City and County Building

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Denver City Council is continuing its push for power: more for members, less for the mayor.

As part of that effort, Councilwoman Robin Kniech on Monday gave an update on her proposal to change the city’s charter and expand the council’s budgeting authority. As is standard in some cities across the country, such as Detroit, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, Kniech wants the council to have the “flexibility” to change Denver’s budget mid-year, after it’s law.

“This is not a rogue power,” she said during a special issues charter committee meeting on Monday afternoon. Her intent, she made clear, is for the authority to be exercised in “rare” instances and only for major citywide priorities rather than any one council member’s “pet projects.”

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Denver’s governing document currently does not allow City Council to initiate a spending proposal, even with super-majority support, to address a pressing city need in the middle of a fiscal year that may not have been known or possible to take up during the annual budget process.

If the mayor doesn’t agree that the spending proposal is urgent or approve of the proposed approach, funds may have to wait a full year to be addressed in the next regularly scheduled budget.

Some of the examples she provided included giving council members the chance to respond to an urgent environmental opportunity to promote energy efficiency that wasn’t in the budget, responding to a grant or funding that didn’t come through to continue a critical program, or to launch an intervention around homelessness.

Those funds could come from a handful of places — excess revenue or unspent budgeted money, for example — and council would have to choose one.

Mayor Michael Hancock’s legislative director Skye Stuart said the administration has not yet taken a position on the proposal, but that there were initial “concerns.” One of the biggest worries revolves around ensuring government departments’ operations aren’t negatively impacted by the council making a major change in the budget without departments expecting it.

Kniech stressed the fact that, if approved, the new authority granted by the charter change would not only be used sparingly, but perhaps bring about even “more accountability” because it would require up to nine council members to agree on the spending proposal, rather than just one elected official (the mayor).

The overarching point, Kniech said, is for City Council to have the possibility to make a mid-year budget change. “Right now, it’s impossible.”  

At least two other charter change proposals are in the works, each led by first-time Councilwomen Candi CdeBaca and Amanda Sawyer. The two, respectively, want to create a nominating commission for the city attorney and grant City Council the power to approve mayoral cabinet appointments.  

Sawyer is expected to present an update on her proposal Feb. 24 during the next special city charter committee meeting.

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