Mejia says financial issues will be huge for Denver’s next mayor

James Mejia (Kersgaard)

Denver Mayoral candidate James Mejia says anyone elected mayor better be ready to address a $100 million budget shortfall on day one.

“There is no waiting; there is no on the job training. The next mayor has to deal with it immediately,” Mejia said.

“When I managed parks and recreation, we had two straight years of 10-percent budget cuts. We cut water usage by 30 percent, yet we were still able to expand system by 25 percent, adding parks in Stapleton and Lowry. It was an amazing expansion of the system in dire economic times,” said Mejia, who managed Denver parks and recreation when Wellington Webb was mayor.

“So the question is, how do you get that done?”

He said efficiency is the answer. He said Denver Health has cut spending by $65 million over the last five years.

As an example of someplace where efficiency would offer savings, he says Denver currently has two different agencies that believe it is their job to declare an epidemic, were one to occur. “Well, that is problematic. It is more expensive if two people think they do the same thing.”

“In the long term, I believe we need pension reform.” He said he wouldn’t change the plan for those already in the system, but would make changes for people being hired in the future. “For those coming in, we have no choice. We have to make sure it is sustainable.”

He says FasTracks has to be finished, even if it means asking voters for more money. Mejia says current Mayor John Hickenlooper’s biggest accomplishment was creating an environment of cooperation among area mayors and governments, which started largely with an agreement among more than 30 area mayors to support FasTracks.

“If you do not finish what you said you would finish, those relationships go by the wayside. You can’t count on them again if you go back on this. We need to work with other cities on water rights and conservation. Area mayors need to trust each other for the region to move forward,” Mejia said.

Mejia local cities and counties to cooperate on a variety of issues, but especially on economic development. If he were mayor, he says he would not wait for out of state businesses to enquire about relocating–he would recruit them.

“Why should Denver be involved in the new energy economy? We have everything going for us in that regard. We already have a reputation as a green city. Denver is a city that will only build LEED buildings. This is a place that Denver is expected to go. Everyone is expecting us to be a leader in that regard and we need to seize that mantle and run with it.”

“Everything from our branding to out buildings needs to be green. We already have NREL, NCAR, NOAA, solar firms, wind firms. This is the place where The new energy economy will be reborn.”

He said he would like to see more tax incentives for green construction and would consider putting more green requirements in city building codes.

“We can define the sectors we want to be involved in. Let’s not wait for companies tor reach out to us; let’s take it to them, let’s get the mayor and the governor and the private sector and go to them and tell them to come to Denver. Lets look around the country for companies that would be a good fit, and let’s go get them.”

He said Denver’s quality of life stacks up well against any other city and that he doesn’t think the city needs to offer incentives to lure business. He said the city does need more direct flights in order to attract some businesses. “Getting those flights can take years of effort,” he said.

On medical marijuana, he said, “The voters do not currently have what they voted for. There are a lot of people who have no ailments, who are getting access to marijuana.” He said he expects a ballot measure in 2012 calling for legalization. “We’ll see what the people of Colorado say,”

He said the mayor of Denver needs to work closely with the manager of safety. “We need to restore the balance between safety and trust. Everyone wants safe streets, we need safe streets, and if you don’t have them, you don’t have economic vitality, you don’t have strong neighborhoods, you don’t have strong communities.”

“On the other hand we need to know that there will be adequate punishment when police do things wrong, when officers are doing the wrong thing. You need to have strong commanders in place and a strong police chief who keeps folks in line. A mayor needs to be in direct and frequent communication with the manager of safety to agree on what kind of reaction officers receive when they do the wrong thing.”

Mejia says his background in city management is “a huge advantage. I am the only one who has managed a cabinet level department successfully in economically difficult times. I’m the only one who been responsible for the bottom line of a $400 million capital project.”

It is perhaps fitting that the former director of Denver Parks and Recreation is a fixture running laps at Washington Park, near his home. He’s run 50 marathons in his life and runs 25-50 miles a week depending on whether he’s training for another marathon. He once ran 14 marathons in 14 months and in October ran marathons on three consecutive Sundays.

“Running is mediation, time to think,” he said.

“One of the great things about Denver is that when I ask people where they live they often identify with a park, telling me they live by this park or that park and explaining that whatever park it is, is Denver’s best.”

Earlier this week Mejia talked to us about education.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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