Denver City Council moves to wrest sole control of department head hires, including police chief and safety director, from mayor

Voters would have to approve the charter change, which was in the works long before recent protests, in November.
3 min. read
Denver Police Commander Paul Pazen speaks after Mayor Michael Hancock announced him as Denver’s new police chief, June 28, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Denver City Council might gain the power to make or break candidates for 14 key positions within the city government that currently depend solely on the mayor's judgment.

On Tuesday, councilwomen Amanda Sawyer and Candi CdeBaca introduced a proposed ballot measure to the governance committee, which advanced the initiative to a vote of the full legislative body. If approved, Denver voters will ultimately decide on the charter change in November.

Right now the mayor has the power to appoint directors of these departments: safety, transportation, planning and development, finance, aviation, city attorney, health and environment, business licensing, human services, parks and recreation, and general services. The mayor also appoints the police chief, sheriff and fire chief.

While the mayor will still put forward candidates for those posts, the charter change would let council members approve or block those appointments with a majority vote.

Sawyer and CdeBaca conceived the measure last October, but recent protests over systemic racism and police brutality now paint it in a different light.

"If we have learned anything from the demonstrations that have happened over the murder of George Floyd and the public comment that we've heard in this chamber ... it's that the people of the city of Denver are crying out for more transparency and accountability," Sawyer said. "Now more than ever, we owe it to our constituents to give them a more representative government that responds to the people."

Thirteen city council members -- 11 who represent geographic districts and two at-large -- serve about 727,000 city residents.

Councilwoman Robin Kniech said the move would strengthen the hiring process.

"In my view, it's a pretty narrow role, and it's a role to protect against, for example, nepotism or unqualified candidates," Kniech said.

While Kniech expressed concern over blocking potential candidates, it wasn't enough of a concern to withhold her vote of support.

Similarly, Councilwoman Kendra Black held concerns about "grilling" candidates in public. Sawyer retorted that any job candidate concerned about a conversation with the council should raise an automatic red flag.

CdeBaca, the most outspoken council member when it comes to challenging Mayor Michael Hancock's administration, said the move would depoliticize city departments.

"We have a city where we have politicized agencies and what we're trying to do is at least create that balance -- a check and a balance -- for politicized agencies," CdeBaca said.

The full council will vote on whether to send the measure to voters later this month.

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