The Denver City Council is laying the groundwork for a potential investigation of Mayor Michael Hancock’s text messages to a police detective, who described the messages as sexual harassment.
The elected officials have asked their attorneys to develop a proposal for the investigation, but haven’t decided whether to actually use their investigative powers.
Still, this is a change from last week, when council members said that they didn’t plan to use their investigative powers to look further into the matter of the suggestive messages, which Hancock sent in 2012.
The council members previously said that an investigation “risks re-victimizing” the woman who received the messages, police detective Leslie Branch-Wise, and that they wouldn’t proceed unless she requested it.
Days later, Branch-Wise said that she did want an investigation, according to a letter from her attorney to the council.
“She believes that the citizens of the City of Denver deserve a full and open investigation of the incident that included Mayor Michael Hancock participating in what she perceived as a pattern of inappropriate sexual behavior,” the letter stated.
She’s “fully prepared to cooperate,” it continued. She also told Denver7 that no one from the city had contacted her about an investigation — although Councilwoman At-large Robin Kniech provided emails to The Denver Post that showed she had reached out to Branch-Wise.
Now, the council could move toward the investigation.
“Based upon recent statements from Det. Branch-Wise, I and other councilmembers have directed our legal counsel to develop a proposal for a potential investigation. A formal vote by Council is necessary before we could begin any such investigation,” Brooks said in a statement released by text message.
“We are listening and we are working. We will know more at the end of the week.”
Under the city’s rules, a typical employee could be disciplined or fired for Hancock’s admitted actions — but those don’t apply to elected officials.
The city council has some special powers to investigate city matters. Its subpoena power allows it “to investigate any department of the city and the official acts and conduct of any officer thereof, and to compel the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of books and documents.”
The elected body has rarely if ever used that power. Conducting an investigation would require either a majority of the full 13-member body, or a majority of any of its smaller committees.
But even if it moves ahead with an investigation and finds wrongdoing, the council has no formal power to discipline the mayor, officials said.
Hancock has apologized for his actions and denied that he made any sexual advances.
“Mayor Hancock has taken full responsibility for his inappropriate texts from six years ago, including apologizing to Detective Branch-Wise. City Council has also received detailed briefings from the City Attorney’s Office, and the Mayor will continue to be open, honest and transparent,” his spokeswoman, Amber Miller, said in a written release.