City Councilman Chris Hinds delays FEMA reimbursement for Denver’s coronavirus spending, citing transparency

Mayor Hancock is not cool with it, to put it mildly.

City Councilman Chris Hinds during a weekly council meeting, Jan. 6, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

City Councilman Chris Hinds during a weekly council meeting, Jan. 6, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

A bid by the Hancock administration to reimburse the city government, the airport and Denver Health for emergency COVID-19 spending with federal money was delayed Monday when City Councilman Chris Hinds blocked the move with a procedural tactic.

And the mayor is not happy about it.

The $38.6 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency required the Denver City Council’s approval, but Hinds took issue with the last-minute addition to the legislative body’s agenda. He also cited bonuses received by Denver Health executives for their 2019 performances as employees of the hospital get furloughed.

On behalf of Hancock’s office, Councilwoman Kendra Black had requested the grant be added to the agenda Sunday using a “late file” — a somewhat unusual procedure used to rush things through in emergencies. The council must unanimously agree to suspend its normal course of action before voting on such an item, and Hinds voted not to consider the grant, dooming it for now. Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca was the only other member to join him.

A vote on the grant is delayed, likely until next week. If approved, the agreement will reimburse the city government about $17 million for its spending on the pandemic response. The city has spent about $22 million so far, said Julie Smith, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s finance office.

Denver International Airport would receive about $2 million. Denver Health, the medical arm of the city’s public health department, would get almost $19 million.

Colorado’s emergency office sent the grant agreement to Denver on April 21, according to the 39-page document. Hinds questioned why the council was being asked to rush it through when the mayor’s office had the grant for six days.

“We need the opportunity to dig into contracts and ask those tough questions rather than rubber stamp something we don’t have time to scrutinize,” he told Denverite.

Hancock’s office went the late-file route because, while the city received news of the grant April 21, the final agreement was not sent until April 23, after the filing deadline for the city council’s agenda had passed, said Mike Strott, a spokesman for the mayor’s office.

Hancock’s office called Hinds’s and CdeBaca’s votes “irresponsible grandstanding.”

“These reimbursement dollars are completely unrelated to the issue the two Council members chose to base their votes on tonight,” said Mike Strott, a spokesman for Hancock, in a statement. “At a time when we need all possible funding to protect our community and serve our most vulnerable residents, this is an incredibly short-sighted decision to delay these funds from being used in our response to this global pandemic.”

Councilman Kevin Flynn told his colleagues Monday that “it does us no good to delay the acceptance” of the check from FEMA.

“As a reminder, this is not new funds,” Flynn said. “This is reimbursement money and spending that we already authorized previously. So it’s paying us back.”

In addition to concerns over the federal grant, Hinds worried the executive branch was gaining too much authority, he told Denverite.

“We’ve given additional authority to the mayor through our emergency declaration,” he said at Monday’s meeting. “We’ve bypassed the typical committee process with numerous direct files. And the mayor has asked us to reduce our budget.

“It’s better to be six feet apart than six feet under, but you know, with our limited budget on council, we can only move so fast, and it is important for us to continue to make sure that we have three functioning branches of government in Denver.”

This article has been updated to correct a reporting error. Denver Health is not wholly a private entity. The hospital authority is a subdivision of the state.

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