A lobbyist who donated thousands to Denver City Council members is their early choice to vet people for a government watchdog board

Proponents say Roger Sherman is a respected former member of the Citizen Oversight Board, which assesses the Office of the Independent Monitor. Sherman recently led the campaign to maintain the city’s urban camping ban.
4 min. read
Police parked outside Denver’s City and County Building during a lockdown Wed., Feb. 27, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Denver City Council may appoint a lobbyist embedded in Denver politics to a committee responsible for vetting applicants to a government oversight group.

Bear with us here because bureaucracy is kind of complicated.

Earlier this year, the watchdog that oversees Denver's police and sheriff departments, the Office of the Independent Monitor, got sharper teeth. The Denver City Council gave the monitor more power over Denver's branches of law enforcement.

Also, in the name of transparency, Council members changed how people become members of the Citizen Oversight Board, a group of Denverites that assesses the watchdog's effectiveness. Anyone who wants to join the nine-person group now has to make it through a newly created nominating committee that will filter applications and advance them to electeds for approval. The nominating committee consists of three people -- one chosen by the City Council, one chosen by Mayor Michael Hancock and one appointed jointly.

On Wednesday, the City Council's safety committee voted to consider Roger Sherman as the Council's nominee. Sherman served on the Citizen Oversight Board between 2015 and 2016 and advocated for the stronger independent monitor that Denver now has. His experience qualifies him to vet applicants, City Councilwoman Robin Kniech, who helped rewrite the independent monitor's role, told Denverite.

Campaigns run by eight of the city's 13 sitting council members have accepted donations from Sherman. Since 2012, he has given a total of $8,800 to Kendra Black, Jolon Clark, Kevin Flynn, Stacie Gilmore, Chris Hinds, Robin Kniech, Debbie Ortega and Jamie Torres, according to campaign finance records. He has given Mayor Hancock $6,000 over the years.

Without any discussion, Council members agreed to put Sherman's nomination to a vote of the full body. The item was on the "consent" agenda, meaning it was deemed uncontroversial -- though not every Council member thinks that's the case.

Sherman co-leads lobbying firm CRL Associates, a group embedded in Denver politics that boasts about "influencing government decision-making." Recently, Sherman managed the successful Together Denver campaign, which aimed to sway voters to maintain the urban camping ban. Some people experiencing homelessness and their advocates strongly opposed the ban, initiated by Hancock and enforced by the Denver Police Department.

CRL has its fingerprints all over Denver, yet is a gatekeeper for an oversight board, said City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca.

"I feel like it's advantageous to know all sides -- the citizen oversight side, the lobbyist side, the contractor side, the government side," CdeBaca said. "That's what CRL does. They cover their bases in every arena to consolidate power."

CdeBaca will call Sherman's nomination out for a discussion and vote during the full legislative session, she said, because his post would influence the department in charge of enforcing a policy -- the urban camping ban -- that he lobbied against.

"There are so many citizens in the city of Denver, why would we put him in this position?" she said. "He's not unbiased and he's had his opportunity to influence government."

Councilwoman Kniech defended Sherman's nomination in an interview, pointing to his experience on the board and therefore his ability to vet good candidates. He advocated for stronger independent monitor when the mayor's office was resistant, she said.

"No. Not at all," Kniech said when asked whether there was a conflict of interest. "We were specifically given some input on the nominating committee because they can help applicants learn about what's involved. It's all about reinforcing the strength of the independent monitor."

Sherman will not make any final decisions and will be one of three people on the committee, she added. The City Council will make final decisions.

"Nominate means reviewing people who have said they're willing to step up," Sherman said in an interview. "We don't go in and say, 'Here's our favorite.' We've taken the time to see who might be qualified and make sure they understand the time commitment."

The full Council will likely vote on the matter Monday.

Due to an error made by Amanda Sawyer's and Paul Kashmann's campaigns, this article wrongly stated that both accepted a donation from Roger Sherman. Sherman attempted to donate money to both campaigns, but they returned the checks. The article has been corrected.

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