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At a time when the city could use more oversight, more public regulation of development and major real estate projects from the city council and auditor’s office, from all appearances, the Denver City Council seems to be going full steam ahead in the opposite direction. By way of example, the Council’s recent barely noticed nod to Mayor Hancock’s request to create an Office of Public Private Partnership.
Let us say outright, that we oppose the creation of the Office of Public-Private Partnership.
They’re called “Public-Private Partnerships” – PPPs or P3s for short. The term “partnership” applied to these arrangements is a euphemism. With the creation of an Office of Public-Private Partnerships, the management, regulation and oversight of PPPs has passed from public institutions (city, state, federal) to the corporate project managers themselves, developers and the financial interests hoping to profit from the projects.
In many ways P3s been around for a long time.
But in the last decade or so, they have become little more than the private sector using public infrastructure to maximize their profits – often times with the public taking the risks. Large scale projects often running into billions of dollars, P3s are common today, in Colorado, and throughout the country. Two of the most recent here in Colorado are the D.I.A-Ferrovial deal and the renovation of the Great Western Stock Show complex. There is also proposal to fund what could be a Denver 2026 Olympics bid with PPP to avoid state funding.
Without careful research and formulation, P3s have a tendency to be little more than the private sector drinking from the public trough, private gain with the public taking the risk. They’re a mechanism for giving away public funds with which to gobble up public property. Unfortunately, already, Denver has a long and ignoble tradition along these lines, going back several administrations of city officials cozying up to developers and selling off public property at bargain basement rates.
The quiet – virtually stealth – creation of this office leaves us increasingly uneasy.
Unregulated, uncontrolled development just got ratcheted up another notch. The Mayor’s office has already spent close to a $1 million on the project, with the City Council voting on the last phase, of $500,000 with little or no discussion as to its implications. By all indications the project as already been pushed through Council, as a line item. Its members are chosen and answerable only to the Mayor. The Office of Public Private Ownership – has already been approved for more than $ 1 million ($1.2-1.4 million) in the 2018 budget
It smacks of irresponsibility for the city council to so blithely surrender its political powers to an unaccountable bureaucratic and politicized entity, whose proceedings will inevitably be held behind closed doors. We see its creation as yet one more way that public oversight of massive public works projects is disappearing and that public funds are being used to support and offload risk onto taxpayers. It reduces the City Council to little more than a rubber stamp for decisions that have been formulated and decided beforehand. In going along, Council, seemingly willingly, is sidestepping its responsibility to examine, approve and manage such projects. Nor does there appear to be much oversight by the Denver auditor in the matter.
Shame on the Denver City Council for letting this happen with hardly a peep of protest.