Mayor Mike Johnston names nominee to lead Department of Public Health and Environment

Karin McGowan’s nomination still needs approval from City Council.
2 min. read
Denver Mayor Mike Johnston announces the city’s priorities for 2024, during a press conference Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 at the City and County Building.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

Ten months into his first term, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston has nominated someone to fill his final open appointment.

If approved by City Council, Karin McGowan will take over as head of the Department of Public Health and Environment, the agency that handles everything from air quality and noise pollution to overdose prevention, immunization and the animal shelter. 

“Throughout her career, Karin has stewarded equitable public health and environmental outcomes across Colorado and knows how to deliver strong and healthy communities,” Johnston said in a statement Thursday. 

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston has nominated Karin McGowan to lead the city's Department of Public Health and Environment.
Courtesy of the mayor's office

Johnston’s nominee has longstanding ties to state politics. 

McGowan worked for a decade at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, including a stint as deputy director. At CDPHE, she led communications, legislative affairs, the Office of Health Equity, the Office of Emergency Planning and Response, and the Office of Planning and Partnership. 

CDPHE navigated cannabis legalization, the 2015 Gold King Mine Spill and the COVID-19 pandemic under her leadership.

McGowan also served as assistant director for external affairs for Great Outdoors Colorado and worked in Governor Roy Romer’s administration. 

Gov. Jared Polis later appointed McGowan to the Energy and Carbon Management Conservation Commission. She has also worked at the Denver Regional Council of Governments, heading up both policy development and communication efforts. 

Unlike many of Johnston’s political appointments, McGowan is not a holdover from the Hancock years. 

In January, Denverite reported Johnston had kept a glut of Hancock’s key leaders in their jobs, from the city attorney to the chiefs of the police, fire and sheriff departments. 

If confirmed, McGowan will follow Interim Director Alice Nightengale, who has served in the role since March, when Hancock appointee Bob McDonald retired.

“We conducted a thorough and meticulous search for this position because we knew we wanted a candidate with world-class talent, and we found exactly what we were looking for with Karin,” Johnston explained.

Correction: This story originally stated Bob McDonald was the current head of DDPHE. It has been updated to note that he retired in March and had been replaced, in the interim, by Alice Nightengale.

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