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The seal of the City and County of Denver is pictured on the chair behind Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock during a press interview in his Denver office on June 5, 2019, the morning after winning reelection in a runoff. Photo by Andy Colwell, special to Colorado Politics

Denver City Council is pursuing plans to amend the city’s charter and establish greater oversight when it comes to how mayoral appointees and top safety officials are selected — a move the mayor’s office isn’t happy about.

The charter change proposal, spearheaded by Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, aims to chip away at Denver’s strong mayor system by requiring City Council’s approval for 14 positions, including all cabinet heads, as well as the sheriff, chief of police and fire chief.

The mayor currently holds sole power in choosing who sits in the city's top spots.

“The proposed charter change, which seems more about politics than anything else, is a solution in search of a problem,” mayor’s office spokesman Mike Strott told Colorado Politics in an email. “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. 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.

“An individual being recruited into one of these positions from the private sector might choose not to enter public service because they don’t want to be subject to what could be a hostile confirmation process,” he said. “The concern around recruitment was expressed to the councilwoman, and the fact that this proceeding should be an indication of how that concern was received.”

Sawyer 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 Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca joined forces to include the top three heads of safety after CdeBaca struggled to gather enough support from other council members to advance her proposal to make Denver’s sheriff an elected position.

“This is a compromise,” Sawyer explained. “She would prefer having an elected sheriff, but there are a lot of people who wouldn't."

A compounding factor, Sawyer said, was safety officials telling her that, if she was going to pursue this proposal, it needed to apply to all three heads of safety — not just the sheriff.

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“They said, ‘That’s not fair. It's not. The optics of that are not acceptable,'” she said.

On Monday afternoon, Sawyer will present the proposed bill during the council’s Special Issues City Charter meeting.

The goal of the meeting, she said, is to gauge the temperatures of other council members before moving the bill forward to the city’s Finance and Governance Committee, the step required before the legislation is advanced to and voted on by the full council.

If passed by the body later this year, the charter change proposal will appear on the November ballot and be left up to voters to decide. 

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