As the search continues for the person who shared confidential information to the press about the termination of a nearly $2 billion airport contract deal, not all Denver City Council members agree on the way the investigation should be carried out.
The city attorney’s office has asked about a dozen of staffers in Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's office to turn over their cell phone records, The Denver Post reported last week.
But Denver City Councilman Kevin Flynn, who chairs the aviation committee, thinks that’s a step too far.
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“I’ve criticized the intrusive request for personal cell phone information as an overreach and made that known to the administration two weeks ago in a private meeting,” Flynn said by email.
Although his colleague, Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, seems to share that perspective, Flynn starkly disagreed with her statement last week that accused the city attorney’s office of using “draconian tactics” to “maintain secrecy and deter truth-telling.”
"To call this investigation an attempt to silence whistleblowers is simply wrong,” Flynn said. “This wasn’t whistleblowing, and there wasn’t any wrongdoing or incompetence exposed.”
Councilman Chris Hinds didn’t say whether this was a case of whistleblowing or not, but instead said there should be a “legitimate process” for whistleblowers either way.
“A proper whistleblower process would benefit the city’s transparency and our obligation of accountability to those we represent,” Hinds said.
Hancock and representatives from Denver International Airport decided in an August conference call to terminate Great Hall Partners from continuing the work on a $650 million terminal renovation because of delays and safety violations.
That information was shared with media outlets before airport CEO Kim Day announced the decision publicly, presenting a problem for the city, which is legally required to inform bondholders first.
Keeping the bond market in the dark is “the issue here,” Flynn said. The decision to leak imminent material may have potentially “trigger[ed] insider trading charges.”
“I encourage whistleblowing on wrongdoing,” Flynn said, “but I do not encourage securities law violations and insider dealing. Nor do I endorse searching through personal phone records of staff.”
CdeBaca said in a statement that the leaker “should be commended, not condemned for doing a public service by encouraging increased scrutiny of an $800 million public project.”
She also questioned why a “culture of fear” exists among city workers and said leaks occur when staffers “don’t feel safe enough to raise concerns within a repressive administration.”
Similarly to Hinds, CdeBaca saw the city’s whistleblower process as incomplete and said there should be more “adequate” protections.
“The fourth estate is vital to our democracy,” Hinds said, crediting media for “keeping government transparent and accountable.”
But there also are scenarios when it’s important to keep information confidential “for a time,” he said, adding that he did not know whether an embargo was requested in this instance.
Big picture, Hinds said, is that what’s happening in the city attorney’s probe of the mayor’s staff exemplifies the importance of having employee representation.
“The power dynamic of your employer – the entity providing you money for food and shelter – is unbalanced,” he said in an email . “Even Mayoral appointees deserve (and should expect) some level of separation between their professional and personal lives.”
Hinds said if something similar happened in his office, he would “expect” the team’s union representative to help staff make the most educated decision when signing any document.
The airport announced Oct. 17 its selection of a new contractor to help complete the first phase of the airport’s substantial renovation project.
Stantec was selected by airport officials for design work, and Hansel Phelps will oversee construction management.
The first phase of the renovation project will be managed by Hensel Phelps, but it has yet to be determined which contractor will see through the remainder of construction.
The contract will be weighed during a Denver City Council committee Nov. 6 and, if later approved by the full legislative body, would take effect in early 2020.