Mayor tells Council to break rules, gets mad when Council says no
[Thanks for your patience. I don’t have thousands of people who work for me. Marketing, social media, and communications are all just me.]
We had one day to review a more than 70 page document that we knew had errors. In the day we had to research this resolution, I received conflicting answers from different people inside the executive branch. I received yet another perspective when speaking with the Colorado office of Emergency Management. I tried to reconcile those concerns. With just one day, we simply ran out of time.
We almost always have more than one day to review contracts. Most Council votes take a majority to pass. That’s 7 votes. When the Mayor vetoes, we need a “supermajority” to override his veto. That’s 9 votes. Last night, the Mayor told us to break the rules, a procedure that requires unanimous consent. That’s EVERY vote. You don’t have to be a political nerd to understand that what the Mayor was asking for was highly unusual.
When I ran for office, I talked about values. It’s important that we have elected officials who have a system of values. It’s important they use those values to make decisions. Here are some of the values I used last night to cast my vote.
- Democracy. We need 3 functioning branches of government. The executive branch gives us lots of good legislation to consider, yet it is still important that we review all of it. You rely on us to insure it reflects your values, too.
- Transparency. We need our government to be transparent. We want to know that what we pass through Council can be reviewed and understood by the public.
- Income Inequality. (aka working families vs. executive bonuses) Even outside COVID, we have working families struggling to get by. Meanwhile, the top continue to get huge bonuses. Last week, Denver Health required furloughs from workers and, at the same time, Denver Health executives received tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses. Some tell us these furloughs now keep them from paying rent.
- Protecting workers. Our workers need equipment to protect themselves – especially with COVID. Workers should get that equipment to do their jobs before executives get big bonuses. After all, workers are putting the safety and lives of themselves and their families at risk to protect all of us.
We Need Three Branches of Government
Many people describe Denver as a “Mayor’s town.” This city has one of the strongest executive branches of major cities in the nation, and that’s outside COVID times.
Now that the pandemic is upon us…
- Council has given given additional authority to the Mayor through our emergency declaration. (which we did)
- The Mayor has also asked us to bypass the typical bill process with numerous direct files, cutting the timing of bills from weeks to days. (we’ve done this too)
- At the same time, the Mayor has asked all of us to reduce our budget (we’re working on this now)
And of course we in City Council do our part – after all, it is better to be six feet apart than six feet under.
That said, Council still needs the time and resources to do its job.
Legislative and Executive: David and Goliath
The Mayor has thousands of people working for him (Denver has 15,000 employees, almost all of which report to the Mayor). I have 2 staff and more than 70,000 constituents with previously scheduled meetings. Even with standard timelines, it’s sometimes difficult to get to the bills that we vote on. In a pandemic, with direct files and now this late file, we don’t have the budget, bandwidth, or opportunity to digest everything – particularly when, in this case, we received different and conflicting answers.
In the day we had to research this resolution, I received conflicting answers from different people inside the executive branch. I received yet another perspective when speaking with the Colorado office of Emergency Management. I tried to reconcile those concerns. With just one day, we simply ran out of time.
Despite having thousands of employees to task full-time on this, and despite having someone with intimate knowledge of the grant, the executive branch took 5 days to review the document from the state. They wanted me (and my staff of two) to perform the same rigor in 1 day. We received no advance warning that the bill was coming. In that day, one of my colleagues identified an error. It still hadn’t been caught by those thousands of executive branch employees in their 5 days of review.
I do want to point out that even before COVID, the budget for the entire legislative branch – from President to receptionist – is less than the budget for the Mayor’s appointees.
The email discusses millions of dollars for Denver Health, and I hadn’t received a response from Denver Health about how they are requiring furloughs for those on the front lines yet also providing huge bonuses to executives. I wanted a response from Denver Health about how they furloughed those on the front lines while also giving bonuses to executives at the same time. These millions of dollars could go a long way to easing furloughs – and so could those bonuses.
This is one of the questions where I received conflicting information: was this grant money already spent? Either the money has been spent or it hasn’t. If it has been spent, the protective equipment is already either in the hands of our front line or on its way. If it hasn’t been spent, I want to hear from Denver Health how they’ll re-prioritize caring for those on the front lines and de-prioritize executive bonuses of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
[note: I reached out to Denver Health on Friday morning for comment. All Councilmembers received an email from Denver Health, but it was late Monday afternoon not in time for Monday night’s Council meeting]
Of course protecting workers is critical. Are we getting equipment into the hands of workers? Are these grants going to executive bonuses instead? We should have the opportunity to ask those questions and receive answers before voting.
For more information
If you want to do your own research, you can find the entire bill online here. This didn’t show up on Monday night’s Council agenda even as late as Monday morning. The only way I found it was to ask the executive branch how to locate it.