Denver voters will decide if the city council can hire outside consultants to help it make decisions

A controversial DIA contract and allegations of sexual harassment against Mayor Michael Hancock prompted the ballot measure.

Denver City Council, Jan. 6, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver City Council, Jan. 6, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

The Denver City Council agreed on Monday to ask voters for permission to hire outside help, advancing its quest to gain power in a city government some say is too heavily weighted toward the mayor’s office.

If voters approve the initiative in November, it would change the city charter to expressly grant the legislative body permission to hire experts of all kinds to help its members navigate complex contracts, for example.

At-large Councilwoman Debbie Ortega pitched the idea after she said Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration blocked her and her colleagues from getting help investigating the 34-year, $650 million contract to renovate Denver International Airport’s Great Hall. Ortega and her colleagues wanted help navigating a complex public-private partnership, but city attorneys with the Hancock administration told Ortega and her colleagues that they didn’t have authority to hire professional services. The agreement later imploded.

“We are where we are today because that contract did not pan out as was originally anticipated,” Ortega said during a committee meeting earlier this month. “But we were not given even the ability to use our own budgets because we were told by the city attorney that we did not have the authority to hire professional services or, in this case, legal services.”

Ortega said the council “ran into roadblocks” when trying to hire an outside investigator to look into sexually suggestive text messages Hancock sent to a member of his security detail in 2012.

The ballot measure would make clear the council’s right to hire professional consultants of all kinds: lawyers, investigators and others.

A spokesman from Hancock’s office said the mayor wouldn’t take a position on the ballot measure.

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