So you want to be involved in local Denver policy…?

Our district office often gets great emails from constituents who want to be involved in local policymaking either professionally or as a concerned community member. This article includes tips for getting involved with your local elected leaders.

Our district office often gets great emails from constituents who want to be involved in local policymaking either professionally or as a concerned community member. Some folks have a specific issue in mind and others are just interested in making their community better generally.

We start off by giving them some basic information because it can seem like such a mystery the way local policy moves from an idea to reality. Constituents have told us they find it helpful when we offer up pointers about:

  • What issue areas and legislation Denver City Council is working on now, and why certain issues are prioritized;
  • Finding allies among advocacy experts and organizations working on your issue area; and,
  • Maybe most importantly, what homework they need to do to learn what is already in place and which departments oversee those policy areas.

Let’s start with the last point first. It is no exaggeration to say that some of the best policy is born in the minds of constituents who uncover a unique way to address a community problem. Policy that focuses on solving a problem is really the only kind of policy that comes to fruition. That sounds too simplistic, doesn’t it? But quite often people spend an awful lot of time and energy on clever or unique ideas that don’t amount to much in the long run because they don’t actually solve a problem that needs to be addressed right now. Being able to explain what problem you are solving for, and for whom, is very important. Savvy, successful citizens and advocates really know their stuff and know what is already being done within the City before they propose an idea.

If you want your idea to have a genuine chance of being adopted, you should be researching the City’s website and contacting local advocacy organizations in your issue area. If you are having trouble finding information, feel free to drop us a line, and we’ll point you in the right direction.

Finally, sadly sometimes your policy idea might be virtuous and something the City would benefit from, but it may be an idea whose time has not yet come. Even elected leaders and city department heads have only so much time and so much funding to cover the wide variety of needs of our diverse Denver community.

To best understand the current priorities of the Council and of the Mayor’s office (and to build a solid argument about why your policy idea should be considered) you should take a look at Council’s annual priorities; the introduction to the Mayor’s budget (what is a budget but a set of priorities?) and the mission statements, annual reports and current work of City Departments found on www.denvergov.org.

If your idea isn’t a top priority now, don’t give up. It often takes years for a policy to gain enough interest and need among a wide variety of stakeholders before it ends up as an official policy or program at any level of government.

Tips to get started:

  1. Watch the Council Committees and Monday night City Council Meetings: Denver City Council meets in working Committees that vet issues and craft legislation. Not all issues discussed in Committee end up with a legislative measure attached to them – quite often Committees hear updates on how plans are being implemented or on audits of current programs and projects.

    Some Committees have breakout task forces that study complicated issues in-depth and often involve participants who don’t work for the City and County of Denver such as subject area experts and constituents impacted by the issue.

    By the time a legislative measure gets to the full body of City Council for a vote, a lot of work has gone into that measure. It is most often expected that there won’t be many changes to a bill at that point. So, following an issue early is the best way to see how it has evolved and to weigh in with your Councilperson about the direction that policy is moving. Even before something comes to Committee there are often ways to participate through City department efforts or with local advocacy groups. You can find information about Council Committees on the Council Committees webpage. You can track what is going to be heard at Committees and at Council on Monday nights on the official Council Calendar, featuring links to bill language.
  2. Understand what our expert allies are already working on: City Council has to make a lot of choices on a wide variety of issues, and because of this, Council members often rely quite a bit on locals experts working in a particular policy area and work for the City or with an advocacy organization.

    For example, we have amazing staff in our Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) – many of whom are professional engineers. We rely on them for implementation and planning but we also rely on Denver Streets Partnership (DSP) for their expertise both in local and national best practices and innovations. Perhaps the group we most rely on are the constituents who experience conditions on-site. They often identify problems before we do and can provide feedback about what is working and what is not.

    If you aren’t sure which advocacy organizations are working most closely with the City, email us and we’ll point you in the right direction.
  3. City and County of Denver Departments: If you are interested in working on policy in a particular area, we would suggest following the executive branch department that oversees your policy area. There are many ways to work in policy: gathering data, writing, planning, financing, implementing and auditing are a few general areas. Each department has various positions, including legislative ones, that deal with policy.

If you are interested in a job in the legislative process specifically, a good place to start is to learn about what Legislative Policy Analysts do for various City Departments and City Council. Here are the job classifications for Senior Policy Analysts and Policy Analysts.   

Other City Council jobs that deal with policy by helping elected leaders in at-large or district offices are Aides or Senior Aides.

Volunteering your time on a Board or Commission can be a great way to learn fascinating aspects to local policy work. Though there are very few Boards and Commission appointments that Council gets to make, the Mayor’s office makes hundreds of appointments and you can find information about them on the City’s Boards and Commissions website page.

We love hearing about other people who are as passionate about local policy as we are! Please drop us a note if you need help with your research or a reference to which advocacy organizations we especially like.